Thursday, May 31, 2012

Winners and "Give Me an H" Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Tomorrow, I'll mail copies of Craig Johnson's The Cold Dish to Lauren K. of Reading, MA and Jane L. from Diamondhead, MS. And, Tatiana D. from Camden, AR. will receive a copy of Hell is Empty.

This week, I'm featuring authors whose last name begins with H. Dead Tease is a Loon Lake mystery by Victoria Houston. Her sleuths have a few problems on their hands. The mayor wants Loon Lake Police Chief Lewellyn "Lew" Ferris to resign. And, Dr. Paul "Doc" Osborne, the retired dentist and forensic dental expert has to cope with a teenage granddaughter. Oh, then there's the murder of a young woman who just happened to be having an affair with a clinic's CEO.

Or you could win a trade paperback of Steve Hamilton's Misery Bay, an Alex McKnight novel. Alex has had some downtime for a few years, but he takes on a new investigation when he agrees to help a father discover why his son committed suicide on the shores of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, in a placed called Misery Bay. Hamilton's search is a chilling story, the search for someone who is staging murders that look like suicides.

Which mystery would you like to win, Dead Tease or Misery Bay? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Dead Tease" or 'Win Misery Bay". Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end Thursday, June 7 at 6 PM PT when I select the winners using a random number generator. Good luck!

Prom Night and Other Man-Made Disasters by Mark Coggins

When you meet Mark Coggins, he seems to be the quiet, former IT professional that he once was. Hah! There's a whole different warped side of him revealed in his collection of nonfiction essays, Prom Night and Other Man-Made Disasters.

But, then, he might have been set up to have a weird sense of humor. He had to find a way to rise above some of the things that happened to him. In "Equipment Makes the Man," he tells about his father's shopping mistakes, one of which led to Mark dropping out of Boy Scouts. It's a little embarrassing to take army surplus and Coleman equipment on a sixth grade camping trip.

Coggins is brutally honest about his failures with women, beginning with the girl who refused to go steady with him in seventh grade. There was the belly-dancing girlfriend who cheated on him, the possible prom dates who were stolen by his best friends, the professor he had a crush on, and the woman he terrified at work when he sent her a forged email. It's hard not to feel sorry for him. At the same time, his appearance at the train station to meet one girlfriend was a little odd. He dressed as a duck.

It isn't all school or dating stories in Prom Night and Other Man-Made Disasters. "Westboro Blues" is a poignant story about bigots, showing how some people never grow beyond their youthful beliefs. They never see people and the world as it is, and, if they have to, they compartmentalize their lives in order to hold on to their beliefs. "WTF?" was one of my favorite stories. Coggins skewers a company he once worked for, a company with a couple of incompetent men at the top. If you've ever left a job because of a lousy boss, Mark's departing gestures will make you happy.

Mark Coggins and I are the same age. My final thoughts after reading Prom Night and Other Man-Made Disasters? All of us have embarrassing stories in our past. It's not easy growing up. But, most of us don't have the guts to tell those stories on ourselves. Mark makes us laugh with him, while admiring his courage in admitting he sometimes made a fool of himself.

Mark Coggins' website is

Prom Night and Other Man-Made Disasters by Mark Coggins. Philodox Press. 2012. ISBN 9781467985710 (paperback), 181p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought my book.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski

Jill Smolinski is an expert at pointing out the pain in life, while treating it with humor. Objects of My Affection brings together two women living with pain, both afraid to reveal their feelings.

Lucy Bloom gave up everything for her son, Ash. She sold her house, kicked out the man she loved, and spent all her money to send her nineteen-year-old son to drug rehab in Florida. She's sharing a bedroom with her best friend's four-year-old daughter while she tries to get a job. Her best chance is to take a job that no one else seems to be able to handle. As the author of a book on organizing, Things Are Not People, she's hoping to get the job of cleaning out Marva Meier Rios' house. Marva's son, Will, promises her a bonus if she can get his mother's house cleaned in two months. The renowned artist is also a hoarder. Although she herself has given a date of May 15, she is reluctant to part with anything.

Day after day, Lucy finds herself fighting Marva for every piece of clothing and every collectible piece in the house, some to go to auction and some to a yard sale. It seems to be a losing battle until Lucy calls in her ace in the hole, her ex-boyfriend, Daniel, a movie and collectible buff who understands the value, sentimental and monetary, of much of Marva's possessions. Even so, it's an ongoing battle to pry possessions away from her. Lucy's fired and rehired a couple times, until the day she and Daniel learn why Marva has set a date for the goods to be out of her house. Then, it becomes a battle between the two women, each trying to show the other what is important in life, and when it's time to let go.

Smolinski deliberately made Lucy an organizer and Marva a hoarder to show the contrast between them, and the difference in their beliefs and their lives. The war between the two women, and Lucy's attraction to the head of the work crew bring humor to the book. And, it is quite funny at times. However, Objects of My Affection is also a story that digs deep into the emotions and fears both women have. Both women use their obsessions to hide their neediness. And, despite their ongoing battles, Lucy and Marva need each other. Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out what's wrong with a pattern of thinking and living. And, sometimes, even an organizer needs to learn when to let go.

Like one of my favorite authors, Barbara O'Neal, Jill Smolinski has a gift for writing about the lives of women. It's in the daily routines, the jobs, the relationships, and conversations and the wit, that both authors bring their characters to life. Objects of My Affection is Smolinski's latest slice of life. Her characters, and her readers, need to take time to appreciate it.

Jill Smolinski's website is

Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski. Touchstone. 2012. ISBN 97814511660753 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Queen: A Life in Brief by Robert Lacey

Next weekend Great Britain will celebrate sixty years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign, her Diamond Jubilee. It's the perfect time to read Robert Lacey's The Queen: A Life in Brief, the biography of the eighty-six-year-old monarch.

Lacey has been covering the Queen for over thirty years. She's the subject of two of his previous books, Majesty and Monarch. Those two books are the basis for this one, a shorter version of the life of the world's most visible Queen.

And, it certainly wasn't an easy life. She wasn't born to be Queen, but knew when her uncle, David, gave up the throne and her father became King George VI that she would one day be Queen of England. She was only ten at the time. She met Prince Philip of Greece when she was twelve. He was five years older, and he would become the love of her life. She knew she wanted to marry him at seventeen, but waited until she was twenty-one to insist she was ready to marry Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, who had given up his Greek citizenship in order to marry Elizabeth. Even her wedding was not without controversy since the country was still suffering financially after the war. But surveys showed people wanted to celebrate a royal wedding, and they celebrated again a year later when a son and heir was born in 1948. Only four years later, at twenty-six, Elizabeth became Queen while on a tour of Kenya.

Lacey's book covers the many changes in the monarchy over the last sixty years, many of them brought about due to the misbehavior of other royals, Elizabeth's sister, Margaret, first, and then her children, particularly Prince Charles, who went so far as to authorize a biography in which he complained about his parents. And, the media coverage, and the storms that arose after Princess Diana's death, led to major changes in the family and how they conducted their business and their lives.

The Queen is the story of a woman whose "dutiful, cautious qualities made her sterling queen material," the perfect person to understand the need to change with the times and accommodate the wishes of the country. There's a reason the Windsors remain comfortably ensconced on their thrones while so many other rulers have lost thrones. Lacey, in a book that combines politics, gossip, and biography, credits a small woman who understands the role of a Queen in relationship to her country. The Queen: A Life in Brief, is the perfect biography for those of us who are curious, but don't care to know every detail a biographer or the media would normally reveal. It's just the right touch before the Diamond Jubilee.

Robert Lacey's website is

The Queen: A Life in Brief by Robert Lacey. Harper Perennial. 2012. ISBN 9780062124463 (paperback), 166p.

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

Monday, May 28, 2012

Paris in Love by Eloisa James

There's something romantic and courageous about those families who sell everything and move to Europe for a year. I'm always fascinated by their stories. Susan Pohlman's Halfway to Each Other told about her family's move to Italy to try to save their marriage. When professor and romance writer Eloisa James survived her bout with breast cancer, she and her husband took their two children to Paris, although only her husband, Alessandro, spoke French.

Two weeks after her mother died of cancer, Eloisa James was diagnosed with the same disease. She never had one of those life-changing moments, but after her surgery, she began to divest herself of possessions. Then, she convinced her husband they should sell the house, take sabbatical years from their jobs as professors, and pack up the kids. They put their kids in an Italian school in Paris, since they were bilingual with an Italian father and an American mother. And, Eloisa had the chance to spend a year living "la vie Parisianne."

During the year the family was in Paris, James wrote Facebook posts and Twitter posts, sharing their experiences with friends. It's those posts that she organized and put together into Paris in Love. Although each season of the year, and a few other sections, have introductory chapters, the majority of the memoir consists of those short comments. And, they're charming comments, filled with humor, food, and James' observations of their lives and the city of Paris.

Some of the humor comes from the stories of the two children, Anna, 10, and Luca, 15, both reluctant transplants to Paris. But, some of the humor comes from a lack of understanding of the language. "Quelle horreur! The guardienne came to clean and noticed that our glassware was smeared, which has been driving me crazy. The box of dishwashing powder that we'd been using? Salt! It looked like dishwashing powder, it was under the sink, and I never bothered to puzzle out the label. We have been running the dishwasher with salt alone for two months."

Then, there's Milo, the overweight Chihuahua owned by Alessandro's mother, Marina. Although the dog is twenty pounds overweight, Marina won't accept that her delicate dog has a problem Milo's story appears throughout the book. "Milo has been back to the vet for a follow-up visit. To Marina's dismay, her Florentine vet labeled Milo obese, even after she protested that 'he never eats.' Apparently the vet's gaze rested thoughtfully on Milo's seal-like physique, and then he said, 'He may be telling you that, but we can all see he's fibbing.'"

There are moments of humor, moments of beauty, and times of thoughtful reflection. Eloisa James is eloquent in her love of the city. She even includes notes at the end of the book to make visiting Paris easier, museums to see, restaurants to try, shops to visit. Paris in Love is a story of family and self-awareness. James says, "My Parisian December went a long way to mending a crack in my heart caused by the words 'the biopsy is positive.'" This daughter of a poet (Robert Bly) has a gift of the poetic turn of phrase. She eloquently expresses her love for life, for family, and for Paris in this charming memoir, Paris in Love.

Eloisa James (aka Mary Bly) has two websites, and

Paris in Love by Eloisa James. Random House. 2012. ISBN 9781400069569 (hardcover), 260p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Calico Joe by John Grisham

It's obvious that John Grisham loves baseball. His knowledge and love of the game comes through in every chapter of Calico Joe. It's meant to be a story of a destructive father and a son who yearned to make his father a better man. But, if you don't like baseball, you won't get to the heart of this story.

Paul Tracey was in his forties when he received the phone call that his father, Warren, was dying. Paul's mother and sister didn't care. But, Paul had emotional scars, and, at one time, he bore the physical signs of his father's abuse. Now, he had only one thing in mind. Make his father pay for the most destructive act of his life, purposefully throwing the pitch that destroyed a young player's career.

Warren Tracey was the fourth starting pitcher for the Mets in 1973, but he wouldn't have been in the lineup if they had someone else. He was a "self-absorbed, brooding man," one who never lived up to his potential and blamed everyone else for his failures. He was a womanizer who drank, and hit his wife. And, the one day he hit his eleven-year-old son, Paul, prepared Paul for the day he would throw at Joe Castle, the most promising rookie major league baseball had ever seen.

Joe Castle was called up in July 1973 to play first base for the Chicago Cubs. The kid from Calico Rock, Arkansas was famous after his first game when he homered in his first three at bats. Rookie records fell as he hit in game after game, and eleven-year-old Paul was just waiting for him to play at Shea Stadium. He was as excited about seeing "Joe Calico" play as everyone else was. But, he also dreaded the confrontation between his father, who would pitch at Shea, and Paul's new idol. The media called it, "A contrast between youth and age. Warren Tracey, age thirty-four and over the hill, versus Joe Castle, the brightest young star baseball has seen since the arrival of Mickey Mantle in 1951." That game was a life-changer, for Joe, for Warren, and for Paul, who lived with the knowledge that his father purposefully threw at Joe Castle.

I love baseball, and I enjoyed all the baseball scenes in Calico Joe. Grisham skillfully mixes actual players and announcers with fictional characters. The baseball scenes came to life. It was the non-baseball scenes that seemed cold and emotionless. Paul Tracey came to life as an eleven-year-old, but none of the adult characters were full-bodied. And, the scenes between Paul and his father were cold, as they should have been. But, there just didn't seem to be any passion there, even hatred. And, I wasn't satisfied with the conclusion to Joe's personal story. It just never came to life.

Years ago, I read John Grisham's Bleachers. Great football scenes, but the people somehow fell flat. I have the same reaction to Calico Joe. I loved the baseball, but the characters didn't ring true. Who am I to say, though, that a bestselling author doesn't bring his characters to life? In my opinion, though, Calico Joe was a three-hour read that I won't remember in a couple days.

John Grisham's website is

Calico Joe by John Grisham. Doubleday. 2012. ISBN 9780385536073 (hardcover), 194p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray

Are women over a certain age invisible? Jeanne Ray didn't write her first novel until she was sixty. Then, she produced four terrific books aimed at mature women, Julie and Romeo, Julie and Romeo Get Lucky, Eat Cake, and Step-Ball-Change. The books all featured mature women and family relationships, dealing with them with dry humor and a great deal of understanding and heart.  It's been ten years since her last book. She just seemed to disappear. Now, her latest novel, Calling Invisible Women, addresses that problem, women who disappear. They're the women no one seems to notice anymore. They're taken for granted. And, it could be any one of us over the age of fifty.

Clover Hobart was brushing her teeth when she noticed she was invisible. She couldn't see herself in the mirror, but her son and husband still talked to her. They might have looked right through her as they ate with her, or asked her to run errands, but they never noticed she was invisible. She was inclined to chalk it up to her husband's busy life as a pediatrician, and her son's anxiety about getting a job. She didn't want to admit they had stopped seeing her years earlier when she went from being a reporter to a woman who worked from home, writing a gardening column while handling all the chores around the house. Then her best friend, Gilda, was brutally honest with her. "It's just the plight of women after a certain age. No one can see you."

When a small ad in the newspaper caught Clover's eye, she learned there was an entire group of invisible women who met regularly at a nearby hotel. They were women who had gone through menopause, took medication to avoid osteoporosis, maybe an anti-depressant. Oh, and they might have tried Botox at one time or another. Invisible women. Meeting those women, along with advice from her mother-in-law, freed Clover. She found ways to use her invisibility to her advantage. When Clover started to feel more powerful and less inhibited, she discovered new ways for women to be recognized. Her own family might not notice she was invisible, but Clover Hobart was going to stand up and help other invisible women prove they were still important, and they still could make a difference in the world.

All of Jeanne Ray's books have some bittersweet moments. But they also have wonderful strong women at the heart of the stories.  The dry quiet humor is marvelous. Imagine being invisible and not having to deal with security at the airports. Ray shows us airports, secure companies, schools, a doctor's office, and businesses, all through the eyes of a woman who is invisible. And, she shows us the heartwarming moments when someone recognizes the woman is invisible. There's pain, a sense of loss, bittersweet moments. Clover's mother-in-law, Irene,  points out that she's gained a new perspective on everything, including her own life. There's so much wisdom and warmth in this book. Calling Invisible Women is a cautionary tale. At the same time, it's a story of women's strength, and a story of triumph and love.

Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray. Crown Publishers. 2012. ISBN 9780307395054 (hardcover), 246p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, May 25, 2012

Kevin Hearne for Authors @ The Teague

When I introduced Kevin Hearne for Authors @ The Teague, I was the first to be able to introduce him as "New York Times bestselling author, Kevin Hearne." Kevin's latest book, Tricked, appeared at number eleven on the New York Times mass market paperback best seller list, and number twelve on Publishers' Weekly's paperback list.

Following the introduction, I gave Kevin his author's gift. I always give Cerreta's chocolates, and, this time, I found the perfect gift, a chocolate brain. When you read about the Double Dog Dare Gourmet Cafe in Flagstaff, you'll understand why a brain was perfect.

Kevin began by talking about urban fantasy, and what he's noticed about where it's been, and where it's going. Urban fantasy by its very nature is a mash-up. It contains monsters from certain traditions, werewolves, vampires, etc. It has the potential to take anything from any period or any conflict. But, urban fantasy tends to be in a rut right now. The books use the same few classes of characters over and over again. That makes for a lack of variety.

He gave us a sneak preview of some of the material he's going to talk about at Phoenix Comic Con. There are four big classes of fantasy antagonists in urban fantasy: demons, faes, vampires, and werevolves. Any one of them can be the villain. Protagonists are usually witches and wizards or some zombie-thing. There are some smaller groups, but everything else is "other."

Kevin examined the works of the three biggest hardcover bestselling authors, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, and Jim Butcher. All of them have one of the big four as antagonists. And, the protagonist is not one of the big four. Harris' protagonist is a telepath. Butcher's is a wizard. Briggs has a shapeshifter who turns into a coyote, not a werewolf. And, Harris and Butcher both had TV series. Patricia Briggs' success came without a TV deal, based solely on the strength of her writing.

Kevin's books came from an idea he had for a comic book. His protagonist would be a Druid because he wanted someone who could talk to a dog. He did a crude market analysis, and decided to try the idea as a book. He ended up selling the series, not just one book. The first three books came out last year, which allowed a fan base to get established. So, there were a whole bunch of people waiting to see what happened next when Tricked came out. That's why it hit the New York Times best seller list.

The mash-up idea has become popular. Steampunk is a sub-genre of urban fantasy. Gail Carriger's series is urban fantasy set in Victorian England with gadgets and steam or air. Her books have been New York Times bestsellers.

Cherie Priest's The Clockwork Century series is steampunk in America during the Civil War. She took a lot of flak for that. People said steampunk needs to be set in Victorian England. Boneshaker, the first in the series, has been picked up for a movie. Hearne thought the books were really cool because they were even printed in brown ink to give the feel of alternate history.

Kevin said there will be more mash-ups as we go. He's even seen an urban fantasy legal thriller. He has an ARC of it. Think of The Firm, and put vampires in it. There are going to be a lot of mash-ups with other genres. Hearne said they're so much fun to write and read. There's infinite potential for stories. Kevin and Patrick Rothfuss even blurbed a Japanese steampunk book by an Australian author. (Kevin said we didn't know how thrilled he was to say he and Patrick Rothfuss....) It's an alternate future Japan with ecological damage. There's a griffin in it, and a girl who stands up to the powers-that-be.

There have been some mash-ups that bur the line between romance and the paranormal. They all look the same, an unrealistic woman who looks tough in leather. They're designed to appeal to men and the romance market. The romance angles in urban fantasy came in so publishers could make more money. But, hardcore urban fantasy doesn't have much romance.

Kevin has been analyzing protagonists and antagonists. He's found that books with more than one sort of antagonist do better. If the protagonist has a human weakness, they do better than others. He couldn't think of anyone other than Anne Rice who has a vampire protagonist. Carrie Vaughn has a werewolf protagonist, but she still has a human side.

In discussing the origins of urban fantasy, an audience member said it's pretty much accepted that Emma Bull might have kicked it off with her book, War for the Oaks. It's urban fantasy with a romance at the heart of it. Laurell K. Hamilton's early books fit urban fantasy, as do Kim Harrison's.

When it came time for questions, I asked Kevin to tell the audience about the Double Dog Dare Cafe. He created that restaurant in Flagstaff in Tricked. It wasn't supposed to be the point of the scene, but everyone, including his editor, has asked about the menu. It's a place where you and your partner order for each other; you're daring your partner to eat whatever you order. There are waivers to sign. The foods are exotic foods that Americans normally don't eat. Atticus took Granuaile there to see if they could gross each other out. Barf bags are distributed because there's the chance people will be grossed out. For instance, goat brains are common in India. They look like chunks of cauliflower. One item on the menu was Rocky Mountain oysters. The food and restaurant were not the point of the scene, but people have been fascinated.

Asked how he did his research on skinwalkers, he said most of it came from the Internet. He used that as his base. He found some pictures online. And, they're just scary. They're witches who use corpses for power. Kevin said he finds the shamanistic system fascinating and frightening. It's a good foil for Atticus' magic system.

Hearne took pictures of Tuba City so he could see where Atticus would die. Tuba City, Arizona is build on the solid rock of the Colorado Plateau. There are stunted trees, a few cottonwoods in washes. Because of the flash floods, there are deposits of earth down in the washes. They are so deep you can't see what is in the washes from the road. There's a hidden world down there. There are people making a living in the arroyos down below, and they get out quickly when the flash floods hit.

Kevin said the editors have trouble with some of the Southwestern words in the books. They wanted to make Palo Verde one word. He told them everyone in Arizona would laugh at us. It's two words. He also had a little trouble with javelinas. They told him that word doesn't exist. He said Arizona is very alien to people outside our region. It's very exotic stuff for some people.

Hearne used skinwalkers in Tricked. There's no redeeming version of them. They're western Native American from the Navajo tradition. Skinwalkers are very territorial, connected to the land. The First World spirits are very territorial in the set of myths dealing with the emergence pattern. They have four boundaries, four big mountains around the territory, so they have no reason to leave the area.

In the Coyote stories, he was originally very handsome. He was often having dinner with Badger or another animal. But, Coyote always screws up. He's a trickster, but more bumbling in the Navajo tradition. He's sharp and mean in other tribes' traditions.

Asked how many books were planned for the series, Kevin answered that he had it planned out to nine. Irish cycles are done in nine. He hasn't outlined the last three books yet. His current contract ends with book six.

Kevin will have a novella out in August. It will be Iron Druid Chronicles 4.5 as an e-book. Atticus has to heal his hand. He said the Morrigan can do that, but how? What happened to Thor's hammer and Odin's spear after Hammered? Those are loose ends he wants to wrap up.There's a twelve-year gap between Tricked and the next book, Trapped. Hearne wanted one story in the middle to help people make that transition. So, it will be at the six year point. He's never published anything as just an e-book before. Trapped will then be out Nov. 27.

He does have other things he wants to write. Del Rey approached him with a science fiction idea. That will be out next year. Hearne also has an epic he wants to write.

When does he do his best writing? Whenever he can find time, weekends, summer vacations. He's done with schools at the end of May, and he is finished for good. He's doing well enough that he's quitting.

I asked him about Oberon wanted to be called "Snugglepumpkin". Kevin said Oberon is his outlet for all his silly theories. Oberon just shows up. Kevin has a great time writing him. He's a one-dimensional character who likes sausage and poodles, but everyone loves him.

He's able to be more obscure with Atticus. He hides things in the book for others to find if they're so included. Hearne and his editor have contests to see if she can find his allusions.

Asked about school, he said he didn't enjoy English until his senior year. Then he had a great teacher who showed him why literature related to his life. Before that, his teachers overdosed them on Russian literature. Then, when he was in college he read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. That's the book that made him want to be a writer.

Kevin said he was recently invited to Utah to speak at a romance writers' conference. He said, I don't write romances, but they said they wanted him there to speak about character development. Kevin said he spends little time on physical characterization. He emphasizes dialogue and they way his characters speak. Language patterns and dialect define them as they speak. Language defines us. Hearne uses dialogue as a tool to develop characters. The characters don't depend on physical appearances. Kevin uses dialogue and action, the stuff he wouldn't skip while reading.

Kevin Hearne ended by saying he's just trying to be entertaining. He hopes people enjoy the characters. He wants people to wonder how Atticus is going to get out of this mess.

Kevin Hearne's website is

Tricked by Kevin Herne. Del Rey. 2012. ISBN 9780345533623 (paperback), 352p.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Winners and a "Longmire" Givaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. The cd set of Sandra Brown's Lethal will go to Pamela S. from Kissimmee, FL. Kill Me If You Can by James Patterson and Marshall Karp was won by Jane R. of Driftwood, TX. I'll put them in the mail tomorrow.

On Sunday, June 3, "Longmire" based on Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire mysteries, premieres on A&E. I've known this was coming for a while, so last year when Craig was on his Hell is Empty tour, I had him autograph an ARC of that book. I also bought two copies of The Cold Dish, the first in the series, and had him autograph them. Now, if you haven't ever "met" Walt Longmire, you have the chance to start from the beginning. And, if you enjoy his books, you might want to try for the ARC.

So, I have one copy of Hell is Empty, Craig's allegorical mystery based on Dante's Inferno to give away, and two copies of The Cold Dish, all autographed. Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I'll need separate entries. Email me at Your subject headings should read either "Win The Cold Dish" or "Win Hell is Empty". Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end Thursday, May 31 at 6 PM PT when I select the winners using a random number generator.

Good luck! Now is the time to "meet" Walt Longmire. I'm hoping the series is a success. Are you going to be watching on June 3?

Tumbleweeds by Leila Meacham

I reviewed Tumbleweeds by Leila Meacham (release date June 19) for Library Journal. Here is the review as it appeared in the May 15, 2012 issue, reprinted with permission.

Meacham, Leila. Tumbleweeds. Grand Central. Jun. 2012. c.480p. ISBN 9781455509249. $25.99. F

In 2008, Trey Don (TD) Hall calls an old friend who hasn't heard from him in 22 years. TD and John Caldwell were once best buddies. The third member of their tight-knit group was Catherine Ann Benson, orphaned at 11, and sent to Kersey, TX, where the two boys took her under their wings. In their teens, the boys were football stars in a town that lived and died for football. The three remained inseparable until an unexpected illness, a teen prank gone wrong, and misperceptions changed the courses of their lives. Now, TD plans to reveal the secrets that tore them apart.

VERDICT: Meacham's (Roses) second sprawling novel is as large as Texas itself. The author skillfully manipulates multiple themes of friendship, loss, guilt, and the possibility of redemption. Readers who love epic sagas that span a couple of generations will enjoy this soap opera tale of young love, betrayal, and living a life that might not have a happy ending. - Lesa Holstine, Glendale P.L., AZ

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Craig Johnson at the Poisoned Pen

I grab any opportunity to see Craig Johnson when he's on a book tour. He's quite a storyteller, if you haven't yet heard him. He was just at the Poisoned Pen on his "As the Crow Flies" tour.

Barbara Peters kicked off the event by asking Craig if he'd been to France recently, since they love him there. He said he and his wife, Judy, spent a month in March, and they're going back in November. They keep inviting him back, so he goes. He speaks no French, though, not one word. He makes sure he wears his hat the entire time. He said he can't understand the people who don't like the French, though. He finds them magnificent and charming.

The television series, "Longmire," based on Johnson's books is about to debuts on A&E on June 3. It was an eight-year courting dance with Hollywood. Friends there had warned Craig to be careful about his options, and retain the rights as long as possible. He'll never forget having dinner with Tony Hillerman in Albuquerque when PBS had the shows based on Hillerman's books. A woman came up to him and asked him how much control he had over what PBS was doing. He answered he had just enough control to take the check and run across the street to the bank.

Johnson feels fortunate that Warner Brothers put together a team headed by Greer Shepard as executive producer. She was executive producer of "The Closer" and "Nip & Tuck." Warner Brothers put some money behind the project, and started filming before it sold to A&E. They have seven episodes ready, with three more to film for the season. "Longmire" premieres on June 3.

Barbara told Craig the trailers remind her of "Bonanza" and it's going to be on Sunday nights as that was. Craig never made that connection. He said it's very outdoors, set in Wyoming, as compared to other crime shows. It has a different feel. It's not CSI: Wyoming. There's only one crime lab in all of Wyoming, in Cheyenne. Johnson once asked how long it took them to get DNA results in a high-profile case. He was told if it's really high-profile, about nine months.

Craig focuses on character, relationships, and place. That's his strong suit in writing novels. He enjoys the people populating his stories. Peters said maybe that's why "Longmire" reminds her of "Bonanza", the emphasis on character. Johnson said at one time there were fifty-seven westerns on TV at one time. That imagery of the iconic American West was sold internationally. But, "Longmire" is a modern-day western. Vic won't be on a horse.

Barbara commented that Craig and C.J. Box seemed to have taken Europe by storm. Box is more popular in Germany, while the French have taken to Johnson. He said that was partially because of Henry. The French love the Indians. They're curious about Indians and reservation life. Craig tries to portray that life honestly, both the good and bad aspects.

Lou Diamond Phillips plays Henry Standing Bear. Phillips surprised Craig. Johnson is called a creative consultant for the show. They sent him dvds of the actors and actresses trying out for the roles. His first thought was, too young and skinny for Henry. But, "La Bamba" was twenty-three years ago. Lou's older, and has put on a little weight. He's about 6 foot.

Robert Taylor, who plays Walt, is 6'4". The film team asked Craig why Walt is as big as he is. He said it's an occupational hazard. Western sheriffs have no back-up. They're it. Johnson told them it didn't matter. Everyone in Hollywood is 5'4". He didn't want Walt to be a studied character. He's a man who can put two fingers under the twine of a bail and swing it up five floors. When he received the dvd for Robert Taylor, his immediate response was to say, "He's dead." When he turned it over, the note said, "Nyah, nyah. He's 6'4"."

They had the name of casting a big name actor or a relatively unknown one who would become Walt Longmire. As they watched the dvd, it was Craig's wife, Judy, who said, "He moves like a westerner." Craig said he has lines in his face. That's what a western sheriff looks like. Judy said he's a handsome TV version of Craig, taller, better looking, with a better voice.

Henry doesn't use contractions in Johnson's books. When Craig watched the dvd with Lou Diamond Phillips in it, he noticed Lou had taken the contractions out of the script. So, Craig knew he had read the book. And, he told him later when he knew he was going to try for the part, he went out and bought all the books and read them. Then, once he got the role, he went to Billings, Montana on his own dime. He met Marcus Red Thunder, Craig's friend, and spent four days at the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. They liked him so much they adopted him into the tribe. Craig said they haven't adopted him, even after eight years. Johnson asked Lou Diamond Phillips why he felt he had to do that because he had played Indians before. He said he had played Lakotas and others, but never played a Cheyenne. It was important to him to know how they lived.

When it came time for auditions for Vic, Craig said he wanted someone really strong. He didn't want them to cast some 110 pound model or actress. He wanted her to look like could throw someone across the hood of a car. She had four brothers, and a father who was a policeman. She has to be twice as bad, twice as strong, and twice as tough as others. All Craig knew about Katee Sackhoff who landed the role was that she played Starbuck on "Battlestar Galactica". Then, he watched her in an interview on YouTube. She grew up in Oregon with four brothers who were loggers. Her father ran a mechanic shop. Every other word out of her mouth was "F" this, and "F" that. He knew she'd be perfect.

Barbara asked Craig if he thought the TV show was going to change him. He said, no. He lives in a town of 25 in northern Wyoming. He still has to go down to the barn and shovel shit.

She said she meant will it reshape your writing and your characters to see them on TV. He enjoys seeing how the actors inhabit the characters. But, most of the characters are based on real people. For instance, Johnson's dad is Lucian Connally. So, he doesn't think it will change them. He's had an eight year head start. And, the arcs of the storylines will go in different directions. What makes a really good book doesn't always work on TV.

Craig does supply some of the ideas for the episodes. And, when he gets the synopsis, he'll rewrite it, saying this would happen in Wyoming, or that wouldn't happen in Wyoming. He looks at the scripts. Where he can really help is with the files of ideas he has. He has all kinds of ideas that wouldn't work as a book, but he gave the the treasure of the shorter ideas in his files.

Craig's latest book is As the Crow Flies. When Barbara commented that his books always had colorful titles, he held up the book and said, and look at the book. That color is the French influence. The path a crow flies is the straight line between two points. Johnson said Walt is pulled between two points, a homicide investigation he has no business being involved in, and the plans for his daughter's wedding.

Someone mentioned that not all the storylines had been wrapped up in the last book. For instance, Virgil's story wasn't completed. Craig said the last book, Hell is Empty, was hard on Walt. Virgil's story isn't told in this book. It's not a full year later; it's only a couple months later. Walt is still suffering from some of the physical difficulties encountered in  Hell is Empty. He received lots of email saying take it easier on Walt. His answer? He's big, and he can take it.

He gets a lot of email saying, There's not enough of my favorite character. Fill in the blank. Then, he started getting emails saying there's not enough Dog.

Asked about whether his titles change in the course of writing the book, he said it varies. Sometimes things change in the course of the book that may change what he intended as the title. Next year's book is already done. He's not happy with the title, and he's rethinking it. This book stayed As the Crow Flies. It's set on the reservation. He wanted to try to capture the place and spend time with friends on the rez.

Craig said that's something you won't get on the rez, political correctness. He was doing research at Custer National Park, looking for cliffs to use in a scene. He said Red Birney was one site, and White Birney was on the other. At the park office, they told him, "You can't say Red Birney." We call it Birney Post and Birney Day. Birney Day is names for the day school. When he said Birney Post and Birney Day to his Indian buddies, they said, "Do you mean Red Birney?" They're not politically correct. One man in the audience mentioned that Tony Hillerman used to say they call themselves Indians, not Native Americans. Craig agreed, saying tribal identification was much more important to them. The tribes in Wyoming are the Shoshone and Arapaho, the Lakota, and the Northern Cheyenne and Crow.

 Asked about difficulties in writing a series, Craig said he creates new worlds in every book to keep from getting bored. He doesn't want to create a formula with his series. His contracts have one sentence. It must be a mystery and have Walt Longmire in it. Last year's book was an allegorical novel. He took Walt off the rez and back east in one book. He doesn't want readers to get bored. Johnson is trying to raise the bar for readers. When someone doesn't like one book, he tells them just to wait. The next one will be different.

Craig still enjoys writing the books. He had more fun on the eighth and ninth books than he did with the first and second. After writing seven or eight, he figured he must know something about what he's doing. Peters immediately jumped on that, saying that's not like the second book, when he rode down to the Poisoned Pen on his motorcycle to publicize it. She said for some reason publishers are not always behind the second book, and it always does worse in sales that one. By book three, the readers and authors seem to have gained confidence. It's rare for the second book to sell as well as an author's first book.

As Craig mentioned earlier, book nine is done. He does have to get the title. He likes to get the next book done before the book tour. Johnson has fifty-two events for this year's title. He has some time away from the book. Then, when he goes back, he looks at it with new eyes before he turns it in. B

Does he have any impulses to write other things? Yes, he has some ideas for books that are different than the Walt books. Barbara said there might be a temptation to write spin-offs; give Vic a book. Craig said Walt is the glue that holds those books together.

Asked about "Longmire," he said there are ten episodes for the first season. They've filmed seven, and will have three more yet to film when it starts on June 3.

Dog was difficult to cast. Hollywood was horrified to find out Dog was part German Shepherd and part St. Bernard. They said they have to have four dogs because of the union. Was there anything that looked like Dog. He said the Leonberger was the closest.

There was even an owl handler on the first set. The owl would look at the handler because he had frozen mice. The owl is used as symbolism in the show. It's the embodiment of Martha, the symbolism for her. Craig said they paid a great deal of attention to detail. The sets even had Ruby's post-its.

Barbara mentioned that it was too late for them to get the books, but the publisher redid The Cold Dish covers with the movie tie-in cover. Craig said it's a little surprising to see it on the sides of buses.

What is it like to see his characters on the screen? He said the characters are talking to you and coming to life. It's like a houseplant you've had for eight years, and it gets up and starts talking to you.

In answer to a question, Craig said he was born in West Virginia, but had family in Montana and New Mexico. When he was seventeen or eighteen, he delivered horses down into Montana. He knew then he wanted to eventually build his own place. His grandfather and father built their own places. Twenty years ago, he bought land in Wyoming. When he ran out of projects, he wrote his first book.

As always, it was a fun, entertaining evening. It's always fun to catch Craig Johnson on his book tour.

Craig Johnson's website is

As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson. Viking. 2012. ISBN 9780670023516 (hardcover), 308p.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Escape from Paris by Carolyn Hart

If you read Carolyn Hart's suspense novel, Escape from Paris, sometime in the past, you never really read it as she meant it to be read. The original publication was cut from 95,000 words to 55,000. Now, this work of her heart has been republished as it was written. It's a fascinating story of courage in World War II, the courage of people willing to risk their lives to save others.

The poster was all over Nazi-occupied Paris. "ALL PERSONS HARBORING ENGLISH SOLDIERS MUST DELIVER SAME TO THE NEAREST KOMMANDNATUR NOT LATER THAN 20 OCTOBER 1940. THOSE PERSONS WHO CONTINUE TO HARBOUR ENGLISHMEN AFTER THIS DATE WITHOUT HAVING NOTIFIED THE AUTHORITIES WILL BE SHOT." Nineteen-year-old Linda never meant to bring danger to her family. One day, though, the American filled in for her sister Eleanor and visited the hospitals under the Red Cross flag, taking small gifts for the soldiers. When a British soldier asked for help, saying he'd healed enough that he was going to be sent to The Citadel, and then to a prisoner of war camp in Germany, Linda impulsively agreed to help him escape. She never thought of the danger she was bringing to her sister and thirteen-year-old nephew. But, Eleanor and Robert were up to the task, determined to help the man escape.

Eleanor hatched a plan, rented an apartment, then found the right person to get Michael out of the city. Father Laurent helped, but he was part of a much bigger plan. RAF fliers had been shot down in Northern France, and Father Laurent needed help hiding them, in groups of four or five, until he could send them down the chain that would eventually get them to Spain, then Gibraltar. But, it w was dangerous, and the two sisters knew they could be arrested at any time, and shot.

Linda had only come to France to visit her older sister after their parents were killed in a plane crash. Then, when Eleanor's husband disappeared after Dunkirk, Linda didn't want to leave Eleanor and Robert alone. Now, she was caught up in events that terrified her, hiding British fliers, wondering who might spy on them and turn them in to the Nazis.

It's hard to forget the courage of those people who worked right under the noses of the Nazis to help soldiers escape. And, Hart shows us the conditions they lived under. Those of us in the U.S. forget about the lack of food, the curfews, the suspicion. Escape from Paris takes readers into the heart of Paris, in a story told from multiple viewpoints, that of RAF fliers, living in fear of capture; the view of Nazis, hoping to capture those soldiers; and the views of Eleanor and Linda, two American women determined to do their part, to do the right thing to save lives. Carolyn Hart's Escape from Paris is a spellbinding story of intrigue and romance in occupied Paris.

Carolyn Hart's website is

Escape from Paris by Carolyn Hart. Oconee Spirit Press. 2011. ISBN 9780983004035 (paperback), 249p.

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

Monday, May 21, 2012

June Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

The book chat might be a little dark this month. However, I already did it twice since Jinx & Josh were all over the place. This is the final edition since I had no more time to do a third.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mark Coggins at the Poisoned Pen

I don't always make it to the Poisoned Pen to support those authors who have appeared for Authors @ The Teague in the past, but I try. Mark Coggins, author of the August Riordan mysteries, appeared there Friday night to talk about his collection of true stories about his life, Prom Night and Other Man-Made Disasters.

Patrick Milliken introduced Mark, saying he had lived here in the Valley in the '60s and '70s. Mark is the author of PI novels. His last August Riordan book was The Big Wake-Up. Patrick asked Mark why he wrote a collection of personal essays. Mark said he went to Central High in Phoenix, and he did grow up here. Why nonfiction? Coggins' wife doesn't read fiction. She hasn't even finished one of his books. She told him nonfiction was the way to go, and he should be trying to write like Chelsea Handler, David Sedaris or Bill Bryson. It's not as easy as they make it look.

When Coggins went to Stanford, he was fortunate to take writing classes taught by some authors who weren't well-known then, but became well-known later. Tobias Wolff and Ron Hansen were two of them. But, Mark had a crush on a third instructor, Brett Singer. Every short story he submitted to her was a thinly veiled love story with him and her as characters. However, she was very professional about it, and never said anything.

Singer was working on her first novel, The Petting Zoo, while she taught that class. Mark decided to buy it when it came out, thinking he would at least get her picture on the dust jacket. There was a character named Coggins in the story. Coggins was a lecherous professor who hit on students. At least that's how Mark saw him. Actually, it's a better story than that. Coggins was actually a professor, a writing instructor who only ever wrote one book, a book about writer's block. One of the stories in Prom Night and Other Man-Made Disasters is called "The Singer Affair."

Mark told us he went to Madison Meadows to grade school, and Central High. Some of his friends from back then were in the audience. Coggins writes about dating, relationships, and work in this book. Bill Bryson wrote a book called The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid about the years he grew up. Mark's Prom Night and Other Man-Made Disasters covers that same territory for Coggins.

When Patrick asked him about growing up in Phoenix, and what was lost, Mark told us he can't find his way around anymore. There were no freeways then, although there was talk about them for years. He had to use surface streets. South Mountain was far away from where he lived. The Central corridor was his world. And, Phoenix seemed much smaller. He and a couple friends mentioned a few restaurants and stores back then. He also said everyone watched Wallace and Ladmo, a children's show that ran from 1954 to 1989.

Back to Coggins' current book. He said one story, "Confessions of an E-mail Forger", takes place at a company he calls Big Iron, a company like IBM. Mark worked as a computer programmer, and he became quite good at sending e-mails so that they appeared to have come from someone else in the company. He sent one that ordered a woman to go out with Mark Coggins. Luckily, she took it well, and agreed to go out with him. Another email spoof didn't work out as well. He e-mailed one woman, saying it was from a married man in the company, and he wanted a relationship. At the end of the e-mail, he said actually this is from Mark Coggins. But, she never read that far and ran into the restroom in hysterics because that married man was e-mailing her about a relationship. Mark said it was amazing he never got reported to HR.

Patrick wanted Mark to tell about his prom night disaster. Mark said it was a little embarrassing because some of the people from back then were in the room. During his senior year, Mark went out some with two young ladies. And, he couldn't decide which one he would ask to prom. One night, he was hanging out with friends at Bob's Big Boy. In the middle of a conversation about kung fu, they asked him who he was taking to prom. He said he couldn't decide between Olive or Blythe. Before he could decide, the guys who were with him that night asked both girls out. Mark was upset and mad at the guys. So, he ended up asking a girl he had no right asking since she was so far above him in the high school caste system.

What's happening with the August Riordan books? Coggins is working on the next book. At the end of The Big Wake-Up, August was in a tough place. He's now moved out of San Francisco, and lives in a trailer in Palm Springs. He gets sucked into his next adventure, and that's as far as Mark is.

Milliken asked how he became interested in the classic PI novel since August Riordan fits that pattern. Tobias Wolff was not yet famous when Mark took his writing classes. In one of them, he read snippets from authors with distinctive styles. He read a snippet from Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. Coggins loved the writing. Looking back, he doesn't think Wolff cared for Chandler. He was just showing he had a distinctive style. However, Mark went out and bought books by Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Then, when he was in Ron Hansen's class, he wrote a story called, "There's No Such Thing as Private Eyes." It was a short story featuring August Riordan. Hansen suggested he try to sell it, but it was a long story, and even today long short stories are hard to sell.

Then, in the mid-eighties, The Black Mask Magazine was revived as The New Black Mask. Richard Layman and Michael Bruccoli were the editors. Layman is the author of six books about Dashiell Hammett. Bruccoli wrote about F. Scott Fitzgerald, but he also did bibliographical works about Chandler. They liked Coggins' story, and "There's No Such Thing as Private Eyes" got published. Coggins was pleased because Chandler and Hammet were both first published in The Black Mask Magazine.

When the audience was asked if they had questions, author Craig Johnson asked Mark how he managed to balance the classical form and contemporary issues. Coggins admitted it's easy to slip into parody of Chandler or Hammett. He tries to make Riordan of that mentality, but shoved into the modern world.

The final question asked him how he handled e-books. Mark answered that he's a big book collector, with lots of first editions, including the books by Chandler and Hammett. He's torn because he comes from a high tech background, but he's going kicking and screaming into the new era because of his love of books. Barbara Peters of the Poisoned Pen wrapped up the program by saying publishing is actually in such a state of flux with e-readers and e-books that no one knows how everything will really shake out.

Mark Coggins' website is

Prom Night and Other Man-Made Disasters by Mark Coggins. Philodox Press. 2012. ISBN 9781467985710 (paperback), 181p.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Death Will Extend Your Vacation by Elizabeth Zelvin

Take a bunch of recovering alcoholics, stick them in a clean and sober house in the Hamptons, and murder will occur. At least that's what happens in Elizabeth Zelvin's Death Will Extend Your Vacation, the third book in her series. Zelvin brings back recovering Bruce Kohler, his best friend, Jimmy, and Jimmy's girlfriend, Barbara, in this latest mystery.

The trio had just arrived the previous day, so they really didn't know their housemate, Clea, when they found her dead on the beach. No one had anything actually bad to say about Clea after her death. However, Oscar, the wealthy entrepreneur who owned a second clean and sober house, said, "People had strong feelings about Clea." Well, it seems as if someone had strong feelings about Oscar as well. The real estate developer ruffled feathers of a few people, but it was still a surprise when he ended up dead. And, Oscar's murder just reinforced Barbara's determination to look for a killer. She just couldn't accept the verdict that Clea's death was accidental.

It was a pleasure to run into Bruce Kohler again in this book. He's showing a great deal of emotional growth since he first came to readers attention when he hit bottom and began his recovery. For one thing, he's looking at relationships in a whole new way. And, he's certainly attracted to one of his housemates. She just seems to have a secret or two.

Jimmy, the computer genius, is just as loveable as ever. I have to say, though, that Barbara got on my nerves. She's a co-dependent, and a therapist. She's also controlling, a snoop, and has to know everyone's business. She's actually the amateur sleuth who pushes the investigation.  This is one amateur sleuth who isn't subtle. I just can't stand her anymore.

Zelvin neatly ties up all the loose ends at the end, the relationships, the environmental aspect, the history of the island. Death Will Extend Your Vacation is summer reading for those who don't mind a few bodies on the beach.

Elizabeth Zelvin's website is

Death Will Extend Your Vacation by Elizabeth Zelvin. Five Star. 2012. ISBN 9781432825775 (hardcover), 270p.

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

Friday, May 18, 2012


So, I fully expected to be reviewing a book here today, but the last two days have been just lousy. Thank heavens I have a three day weekend. So, instead of a book review, I'll give you a preview of my weekend.

Dinner tonight with friends, followed by the Poisoned Pen. Mark Coggins will be there discussing his new memoir, Prom Night and Other Man-Made Disasters. Then, Craig Johnson will talk about his new Walt Longmire book, As the Crow Flies.

Saturday, I'm meeting Kevin Hearne, author of The Iron Druid Chronicles, for lunch at Haus Murphy's. He's bringing family and friends, and I'm taking a couple friends. Then, he'll appear at Velma Teague for Authors @ The Teague to discuss his latest book, Tricked. Naturally, I'll be doing recaps here of the Poisoned Pen event and Authors @ The Teague.

Sunday, I'm off to ASU Gammage to see La Cague Aux Folles starring George Hamilton.

In the midst of all this, I'll try to finish a book or two for review, do this month's book chat, and follow up those author appearances with the recaps. Hang in there with me! The future looks fun!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Winners & a Suspenseful CD Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the books by Avery Aames and Kate Carlisle. Patricia J. of San Francisco, CA will receive the package of Carlisle's Murder Under Cover and Aames' Clobbered by Camembert. The second package, Clobbered by Camembert and One Book in the Grave, goes to Teralee E. from Tallahassee, FL . The books will go in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm going to do something a little different. I have two unabridged audiobooks on cd. Victor Slezak reads Sandra Brown's Lethal, the story of a mother and daughter running for their lives with a man accused of murdering seven men. However, they're escaping not just a ruthless crime boss, but also the very people sworn to protect them. Along the way, they risk everything to unravel a web of corruption and depravity.

James Patterson and Marshall Karp wrote Kill Me If You Can. Now, it's read by Jeff Woodman and Jason Culp on the audiobook. An innocent art student finds $13 million in diamonds, only to find two assassins on his trail.

So, which audiobook would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Send your entries to me at Subject lines should read, either "Win Lethal" or "Win Kill Me If You Can." Include your name and mailing address in the body of the email. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest closes Thursday, May 24 at 6 PM PT. I'll select the winners using a random number generator. Good luck!

Cheshire Born by John Wright

John Wright's Cheshire Born is a departure for me. Called "A Collection of Albums," it's the story of  Wright's life, broken into sections. And, it's written in various forms of poetry.

Yes, Wright was born in Cheshire, England. The first section of the book is set in Cheshire, and begins with his birth. It's a section in which Wright remembers the ordinary parts of daily life there. In 1960, there was only one family on their road with a phone, and they would take important messages, including the message when someone died. There are poems bout working men, men going off to work, the window cleaner, a poem called "Ragbone" about the man who traded for rags.

But, it's the second album of the book that rings with poems of love. Wright made visits to his relatives in County Mayo, Ireland when he was a child. It's the portraits of those people that shine in this book. He captures their portraits and their voices. One of my favorite poems brings back memories of my own beloved grandfather.


"On his boots
           the mud of Cloonbulliban
On his back
           a collarless shirt
Round his belly
           a big brass-buckle belt
In his briar
           sweet smouldering peat
In his laugh
           the music of Mayo
In his tears
           the salt of earth
On his lap
          the proudly held grandson
On my cheek
          Love's whiskery burn"

My grandfather wasn't Irish, but oh, the times I sat in his lap as a child!

It's obvious that John Wright remembers those visits to Ireland with love. He writes about family, great uncles and other relatives. And, he writes poems about tinkers, and warnings he never understood as a child.

At sixteen, Wright went to Holland for two weeks on his own, and there is one album about that visit. His poem, "Tram" ends with the homesickness experienced by so many young people on their own for the first time.

"When I saw the magnificent three-prong
pier reaching out longingly for East Anglia
I gazed across a lonely sea and wondered
why I'd come so far away from who I am."

At nineteen, though, Wright left home for good, moving to Australia where he worked as a psychiatric nurse.One section deals with his life there, followed by a return visit to Ireland, and then a final section dealing with his married life as a husband and father in New South Wales.

Wright uses a number of forms of poetry, including haiku in the book. It's a thoughtful view of his life, the people and countries that shaped him. My favorite sections, as I said, are the Ireland albums. The love is so evident in those poems. Some of the poems are sad, reflecting those moments in life - death, loss, old age. But, in Cheshire Born, John Wright explores life through a series of vignettes. And, it's a pleasure to spend one evening in his company.

Cheshire Born: A Collection of Albums by John Wright. Balboa Press. 2011. ISBN 9781452501888 (paperback), 122p.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sleuth or Dare: Partners In Crime by Kim Harrington

Kim Harrington kicks off a new mystery series for middle-grade readers with Sleuth or Dare: Partners in Crime. Marketed as for third grade to seventh, it's a fun read that introduces two self-professed nerds, seventh graders, as amateur detectives.

Norah Burridge narrates the story of a class assignment she and her best friend, Darcy Carter, are working on for  social studies. They have to create a small business, and make a class presentation a week later with the name, logo and a business plan. Darcy who "breathes Internet" and loves crime shows, comes up with the idea of a detective agency called Partners in Crime. Darcy understands that she likes the mysterious and edgy appeal of the topic, while Norah would like that the business helps people. Great! Just a fake business for a school presentation.

Well, not so fake because Darcy hooks into the school's Intranet, and their website for the business is actually live. When someone emails them and asks for help finding their twin, it's Darcy who jumps on it. Norah holds back until Darcy convinces her someone really needs their help. The two girls are investigating a real missing persons case. And, then the threats start.

Harrington's Sleuth or Dare: Partners in Crime is just the sort of mystery I would have enjoyed when I was in elementary school. Of course, it's updated from my day with cell phones and computers. But, the two girls are smart, enjoy school, and find a way to solve mysteries. You might want to try it on the middle grade girl in your life. It looks like it's another fun mystery series published by Scholastic.

Kim Harrington's website is

Sleuth or Dare: Partners in Crime by Kim Harrington. Scholastic. 2012. ISBN 9780545389648 (paperback), 192p.

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Robert B. Parker's Lullaby by Ace Atkins

Let's face it. Ace Atkins had tough shoes to fill, and he faced a great deal of skepticism. Could anyone take Robert B. Parker's place as the author of Spenser? No one can take Parker's place, but Atkins did an excellent job with Robert B. Parker's Lullaby. All the familiar characters are there. The wit is there. And, actually there is more of a mystery in this book than in many of the last books Parker wrote. It was wonderful to meet up with Spenser and Hawk again. It's hard to say that the series will successfully continue. No matter what happens, Atkins can be proud of keeping Spenser alive for those of us who love him.

Spenser is in his office when his latest client enters. Mattie Sullivan is only fourteen, a girl too old for her age from South Boston, Southie. She wants Spenser to find her mother's killer. Her mother was raped, stabbed, and run over by a car four years earlier. Mattie doesn't believe the man arrested for the murder is guilty. She saw her mother snatched from the street by two men and stuffed in a car. She even knew who the men were. But who listens to a kid, the daughter of an addict? Only Spenser, and, eventually Hawk.

There was something about Mattie that reminded him of Paul Giacomin, the lost young man who he took under his wing and taught to be a man. Mattie was tough and smart, surviving on her own with no adult who really cared. And, Susan Silverman could see how much he bonded with a client who he asked to pay him in doughnuts. Susan could see their similarity. "Mattie works like you. She annoys people until they trip up."

Mattie and Spenser annoy the wrong people in this book, everyone from an FBI agent to all kinds of crooks. And, Spenser is just fine with annoying people, until the wrong people go after Mattie.

Faults with the book? I understand some people have objected to Mattie's language. For Pete's sake, she's a kid living in a housing project raising herself and her two sisters after seeing her mother snatched from the street. What kind of language do they expect this kid to use? Faults or flaws with the book? I didn't see any. It was wonderful to meet up with Spenser, Hawk, Quirk, and Rita Fiore again. Even Susan Silverman wasn't as irritating as she was in recent years.

So, here's a thank you to Ace Atkins. Thanks for bringing Spenser back to us in Robert B. Parker's Lullaby.

Ace Atkins' website is

Robert B. Parker's Lullaby by Ace Atkins. G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2012. ISBN 9780399158032 (hardcover), 310p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tricked by Kevin Hearne

The last time I checked, Kevin Hearne's fourth book in The Iron Druid Chronicles, Tricked, was eleventh on the New York Times Mass Market Paperback Bestseller list, and twelfth on Publishers' Weekly's list. And, deservedly so. Hearne's stories of the Druid Atticus and his wolfhound, Oberon, combine Celtic mythology with other myths around the world in stories of good and evil. However, when the gods and the fate of the world are involved, sometimes it's hard to tell the good and evil apart.

Hearne thrusts Atticus into danger on the first page, and never lets up. Atticus is facing death at the hands of five thundergods. And, the Morrigan, the Celtic Chooser of the Slain had a vision of his death. So, along with Coyote, the Navajo trickster, Atticus sets up his own death. Maybe the gods would let him alone if they thought he was dead. Maybe so, but now he owes Coyote. And, Coyote has a job near Tuba City, Arizona, in the southwestern portion of the Navajo Nation. Coyote SAID he wants to take care of his people, putting money into renewable energy and building infrastructure on the rez so it's all owned and operated by the tribe, so he needs Atticus to find gold on the reservation. But, what he doesn't say, was what he really needs Atticus to do.

Atticus was hiding from the gods, bringing with him his apprentice, Granuaile, and, of course, Oberon. When Coyote introduces the building crew, Atticus is surprised that the team includes Frank, a hataalii, a powerful shaman. Then he learns what Coyote really wants, the destruction of two skinwalkers. And, the building project will attract those skinwalkers, determined to protect their territory. Despite facing a power he knows little about, Atticus owes Coyote, and there's no backing down.

One again, Hearne has introduced readers to a different culture and myth, that of the Navajo. He makes it so easy to learn about it, following along with Atticus as Frank explains the history of skinwalkers. But, Hearne doesn't let up on Atticus. From the moment he faces his death, he continues to face danger. Atticus and Oberon and Granuaile are threatened by vampires. And, when Atticus refuses to help Hel, the Norse goddess of death who wants his help destroying the world, she sends her creatures after him, including the hound of Hel.

Atticus and Oberon, with the addition of Granuaile, are wonderful characters who face danger with that gallows humor common to everyone who faces danger on a daily basis. The puns! The conversations between Atticus and Oberon are filled with pun challenges and humor.

Looking for the best of urban fantasy? You can't do better than Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles. And, Tricked, set in Arizona, is the best in the series yet.

Note: Kevin Hearne will be appearing for Authors @ The Teague on Saturday, May 19th at 2 p.m.

Kevin Hearne's website is

Tricked by Kevin Herne. Del Rey. 2012. ISBN 9780345533623 (paperback), 352p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Read Local at Velma Teague

On Saturday, May 12, we hosted the first Read Local event at Velma Teague. You've heard of the campaigns to shop local and eat local. We invited authors from Glendale and the Valley to appear at the library to discuss and sign their small-press and self-published books. Seven authors appeared. They each had five minutes to pitch their books. Afterward, they took questions and sold and signed their books.

Thirty-two people were in the audience for the first event. Terrific audience for this first Read Local program, and they were very appreciative of the authors.

Check out the back row where a group of pirates from the Dread Pirate Fleet showed up to support fellow pirate and author, J.J.M. Czep of Glendale.

J.J.M. Czep is the author of Blackstrap's Ecstasy, a pirate adventure. The audience wanted to know why pirates, and she said she's active in the Dread Pirate Fleet, and tells the stories of her fellow pirates.

J.J. M. Czep pitches Blackstrap's Ecstasy as Ruth Douthitt listens.
 Ruth Douthitt of Phoenix wrote The Dragon Forest, the first in a fantasy series for children.

Ruth Douthitt talks about The Dragon Forest while J.J.M. Czep listens.

Lori Hines, who was at the library just a few weeks ago, returned to talk about her two mysteries, The Ancient Ones and Caves of the Watchers. The books are set in Arizona and the Four Corners. Lori is from Goodyear.

Lori Hines
 Andrew Means from Apache Junction is the author of a book that is popular in Glendale, Some Memories: Growing Up with Marty Robbins. Marty Robbins was from Glendale.

Andrew Means discusses his book while Lori Hines listens.

Maligned is the near-future thriller set in Arizona that Kathy Papajohn of Glendale wrote with her late husband.

Kathy Papajohn and Maligned
Wayne Patrick of Glendale also wrote a thriller, but The Silent War is a horror/thriller.

Wayne Patrick
Kris Tualla of Glendale is the author of six historical romances featuring Norwegian heroes.

Kris Tualla's Books
And, I'm going to be in touch with Kris. The audience had a number of questions for the authors about self-publishing. Kris Tualla offered to do a program for Velma Teague about self-publishing. Kris Tualla and I will be talking about that for the future.

Kris Tualla discusses her books
After the program, the audience lined up to talk to the authors and buy books. And, of course, take pictures with the pirates.

J.J.M. Czep and fellow pirates from the Dread Pirate Fleet
Just think, pirates here in Glendale. You never know what you'll see at a program at the Velma Teague Library.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Last Boyfriend by Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts pulls on all the right heartstrings again in The Last Boyfriend, the second book of The Inn Boonsboro trilogy. Anyone who reads it will want to make reservations at that enchanting inn with its rooms named for romantic couples, such as Elizabeth and Darcy. Roberts' own story couples have their own romances swirling around that Maryland inn.

As it gets closer to opening day for the inn, Owen Montgomery, the planner of the three brothers in Montgomery Family Construction, spends more and more time at Avery MacTavish's Vesta Pizzeria and Family Restaurant. It's quiet in the morning, and Avery, who has been since childhood, will always let Owen sit with a cup of coffee and his laptop. Avery's place is Owen's shelter from the chaos of finishing and decorating the inn.

And Avery enjoys having Owen around. She gave him her heart when she was just five, and it's been a joke among everyone that she proposed to him then. Despite the fact that Avery's best friend is marrying one of the Montgomery brothers, Avery herself isn't interested in marriage. Although her father tried in his marriage, it fell apart because her mother cheated on him, and left them both when Avery was little. Avery is gun shy, afraid of commitment. She's  independent and determined to be successful running her restaurant, with bigger dreams of a fancier place. And, Owen has never looked at her as a girlfriend anyways.

But, romance is in the air as Avery helps plan that Montgomery wedding. And, Owen only needs a push from the mysterious ghost at the inn, the ghost they all call Lizzy. It might be time to take another look at the girl who proposed to him when she was five.

Nora Roberts' romances always suck me in with their likable, realistic characters. It's hard to dislike the Montgomery men and their strong mother, a team that exemplifies family. Family is so important in Roberts' books. And, it doesn't always have to be family by blood. Sometimes, the people chosen as friends become family. No one could be closer than Avery, Cllare, and Hope, three best friends who are like sisters. And, Justine Montgomery, Owen's mother, stepped in as a mother for Avery when her mother deserted her.

Humor, romance, and a little mystery. The conversations between the characters, particularly the Montgomery men and Avery and her friends, are often funny. And, there is a wonderful scene when Owen walks in on his mother, and doesn't know how to handle it. Lizzy adds the touch of mystery, as Owen and Hope continue to search for answers. Who was she? As an added bonus, Roberts throws in the decorating details of the inn, ones that will make anyone want to visit.

Readers searching for romances between interesting characters, mixed with humor and suspense, should definitely try Nora Roberts. And, if you're looking for an enchanting setting, perfect for romance and weddings, check in for a little while with  The Inn Boonsboro in Roberts' The Last Boyfriend.

Nora Roberts' website is

The Last Boyfriend by Nora Roberts. Berkley Books. 2012. 9780425246030 (paperback), 336p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book