Saturday, June 30, 2012

August's Hot Titles

I wrote about so many August books that are already in my closet that it's hard to believe there's anything left. But, there are some other books readers will enjoy. Let me know if there's something I missed that you're waiting to read!

If you're a fan of Chelsea Cain's series featuring serial killer Gretchen Lowell, there's a new book due out, Kill You Twice. Detective Archie Sheridan is trying to concentrate on his most recent case, a cyclist found hanging from a tree. He's stunned to hear from a doctor at the mental hospital where Gretchen is supposed to be locked away that she claims to have inside knowledge about the case.

Honestly? Cleo Coyle's A Brew to a Kill is more my speed. Clare Cosi's Greenwich Village coffeehouse has been very successful, but a coffee truck turns out to be even more successful. However, a fatal hit-and-run and a coffee bag full of contraband forces Clare to try to catch a killer before she ends up in hot water.

Mystery readers might want to check out Bill Crider's latest Sheriff Dan Rhodes book, Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen. Expect mystery and humor as Sheriff Rhodes investigates when a woman is found dead at "The Beauty Shack", but no one seems to know who she is.

In Kathleen George's Simple, a handyman is arrested for the murder of a law student. However, it's not long before suspicion falls on the young woman's boss, a candidate for governor.

Tess Gerritsen's new Rizzoli & Isles novel is Last to Die. Maura visits Evensong, only to learn that all the students are survivors of violence, taught science and investigative skills for a career in crime fighting. Meanwhile, in Boston, Detective Jane Rizzoli is investigating the murder of Teddy Clock's foster family, a murder only Teddy survived. He's sent to Evensong for protection. But, is he really safe there?

The Kingmaker's Daughter is the latest historical novel from Philippa Gregory. Anne Neville and her sister Isabel, daughter of the man known as the "Kingmaker," were pawns in his political games. Anne is fearful when her father makes war on his former friends, but her fortunes will turn.

In Gregg Hurwitz' Survivor, a former soldier suffering from PTSD and dying from ALS, plans to end his life when he climbs out onto the ledge of a bank's 11th floor. But, just as he's about to jump, bank robbers enter and begin shooting employees and customers. Nate thinks he has nothing to lose by confronting the robbers.

Private investigator Cork O'Connor returns in William Kent Krueger's Trickster's Point. Cork has a problem. Following a hunting trip that results in the death of the first Native American governor-elect, Cork is the primary suspect. The arrow in Jubal Little's heart belonged to Cork, but he wasn't the shooter. He was set up, and now he has to prove it by finding the real killer.

Laura Lippman's latest standalone thriller is And When She Was Good. Heloise convicted a man who is on death row. She rebuilt her life in a small suburban community where no one asks questions about her past. But, when the man's conviction is overturned, she will be the first person he goes looking for. She's been hiding a secret about her relationship with the man.

The Inn at Rose Harbor is Debbie Macomber's new Cedar Cove novel. A bed and breakfast called "The Inn at Rose Harbor" is run by a mysterious newcomer to Cedar Cove. Two of the inn's first guests will find hope, love and renewal there.

Anne Perry's Sunless Sea finds Police Superintdent Wiliam Monk investigating the brutal murder of a prostitute on the lOndon docks. It's a case that would lead him to secrets buried since the Opium Wars.

Madeline Dare takes a new job in Cornelia Read's Valley of Ashes. The wife and mother has everything she ever thought she wanted, but she's not happy. Her job as a freelance newspaper journalist soon has her tracking an arsonist.

In Kathy Reichs' Bones are Forever, Temperance Brennan is asked to examine the corpses of three dead babies in Montreal. The children's mother was a person of interest in a case being investigated by Temperance's long-tine love interest, Detective Ryan. Ryan and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pursue the woman, only to find themselves caught up in the high-stakes world of diamond mining.

I'm only including one nonfiction title this month, Bob Spitz' Dearie (The Remarkable Life of Julia Child).The definitive biography was completed with access to Julia's diaries and letters, and is being released to coincide with wht would have been her 100th birthday. It recreates her life, and explains how she helped to change the role of women in America. The author chronicles her friendships, her struggles, her romance with Paul, and her TV career.

And, I'll end with a title I'm waiting to read, the latest Monkeewrench book. In P.J. Tracy's Off the Grid, the tribal police on Sand Lake Reservation have a problem. Young girls are being kidnapped in broad daylight, and the police don't have a clue about who's doing it or why. At the same time, when gang violence erupts, Detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth are searching for the culprits. Grace MacBride plans to find out if the two cases are connected.

August offers a number of reading possibilities. What are you waiting to read? Have I missed one of your favorite authors? Let me know!

Friday, June 29, 2012

August Treasures in My Closet

Ah, August. The month when the publishing community goes on vacation, and thinks we do as well. I already have a month's worth of August releases in my closet. I wish I had a month to read! Do you want to know about these forthcoming books?

Let's start with a juvenile book, 3 Below by Patrick Carman. I read Floors, the first novel in this series designed for middle school readers. It's a fun mystery about a janitor's son who lives in the magical Whippet Hotel. Now that he followed the clues to solve the puzzles of the hotel, he must save it.

Scotland Yard Detective Joe Sandilands returns in Barbara Cleverly's latest historical mystery, Not My Blood. Set in 1933, Sandilands receives a distressing phone call from a boy in a Sussex boarding school. When Joe investigates, he learns a frightening number of boys from wealthy families have gone missing over the school's history, and none of the families have followed up on their sons' whereabouts.

Thomas H. Cook's The Crime of Julian Wells is about a man obsessed with the death of a true-crime writer. Julian Wells committed suicide, and his best friend goes searching for the reasons. His search takes him into the author's last book idea, and a journey that becomes more dangerous and complex. It's a journey that threatens to consume him.

Interested in spy novels? In Charles Cumming's A Foreign Country, Amelia Levene, the first female head of MI6, goes missing just as her appointment to the post is announced. The British secret service is desperate to keep her disappearance a secret, so they turn to a former agent, asking him to find her before the rest of the world learns she is gone.

If the kids in your life liked The 39 Clues series, they might want to try Infinity Ring. Book One is A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner. A trio of young people must use the key to time travel, a handheld device known as the Infinity Ring, to travel back in time. The Hystorians, members of a secret society founded by Aristotle, inform them that history has gone off course, and it's up to them to fix the Great Breaks. This first book deals with Christopher Columbus.

If you're finding August a little too hot, you might want to try Paul Doiron's Bad Little Falls, a thriller about the hunt for a murderer at the height of a major snowstorm. Maine game warden Mike Bowditch has been sent into exile, transferred to a remote outpost on the Canadian border. When he responds to a call from a terrified couple during a blizzard, a couple who report than a raving man showed up, claiming his friend was lost in the storm. A rescue mission turns deadly, and Bowditch must depend on his wits to survive.

The rights to Laurie Frankel's Goodbye for Now have already been sold in twenty-five countries, and the film rights have been purchased. Sam Elling can't get a date, even though he works for an Internet dating company. So, he creates an algorithm to match people with their soul mates, and he finds his in Meredith. But, when Meredith's grandmother dies suddenly, Sam creates a computer simulation to allow her to say goodbye. The couple launches a business to help others through their grief. But, what if someone doesn't want to let go? And, what if Sam or Meredith has to live without the other one?

Peter Heller's debut novel, The Dog Stars, is a story about love, adventure and survival. After Hig's wife died, he and his dog took shelter in a small, abandoned airport. And, they live there for nine years before Hig realizes he doesn't know why he's trying to survive. So, Hig takes off in his 1956 Cessna,, hoping to find a reason to go on.

The Dead Do Not Improve is Jay Caspian Kang's debut novel. Philip Kim, is a recent graduate, maneuvering through the streets of San Francisco, as he and some hippie detectives try to discover why he's the focus of a violent scheme after the murder of his elderly neighbor.

Journalist turned mystery writer, Julia Keller brings us A Killing in the Hills. The town of Acker's Gap is shaken when three elderly men are gunned down at a local diner. But prosecutor Bell Elkins is becoming familiar with the pattern of violence. And Bell's daughter, Cady, a witness to the crime, decides to help her mother with the case.

It's a journalist who is the sleuth in Julie Kramer's Shunning Sarah. Riley Spartz is a TV investigative reporter in Minneapolis, always looking for her next piece. She anticipates a big story when a young boy is trapped at the bottom of a sink hole, but she doesn't know the story will involve a tragic murder and the local Amish community. It's a story that leads to a web of fraud and deception, and puts Riley's own life in danger.

Lilly Hawkins is a TV news photographer with a nose for trouble in Nora McFarland's latest Lilly Hawkins mystery, Going to the Bad. For her, a vicious shooting is just another day on the job, until the brutal attack on her uncle in her own home. Lilly dives headlong into the investigation, one that may prove to be her last. As she untangles a history of her uncle's misdeeds, a clever killer is preparing to strike again.

In Glenn Meade's latest thriller, The Romanov Conspiracy, American forensic archaeologist Dr. Laura Pavlov discovers a body at the site where the Romanov royal family was executed in July 1918. The perfectly preserved body offers new clues to the disappearance of the Romanovs, and in particular, Princess Anastasia, whose murder has always been in question. It's a discovery that could change the accepted course of world history.

George Minot's om love is a love story set in the downtown New York yoga world. Billy, a once trendy artist who has lost his way, finds his life reinvigorated by his yogi teacher. She becomes his muse, but then real life forces its way in, forcing Billy to reevaluate himself and his beliefs.

Sweden is the setting for The Viper by Hakan Ostlundh. Just days after Arvid Traneus, a ruthless business consultant, returns home, his maid discovers two bodies in his farmhouse, that of a man and woman. Police detective Fredrik Broman can't be sure the man's body is Arvid's, and as he discovers, plenty of people despise Traneaus, and there is a history, decades old, of animosity between the Traneus family and several villagers.

As eager as I am to read some of these books, anyone who knows me knows that if I could only read one book in August, it would be Louise Penny's The Beautiful Mystery. She takes us into the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, where no outsiders have ever been admitted. It's a community where the monks took a vow of silence, but they're world-famous for their glorious voices. When the choir director is murdered, the doors are drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir. It's a case in which Gamache will be forced to confront his own demons. (I am waiting to read this book, even though Penny is my favorite author.)

Vaddey Ratner was five years old when the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia. She tells her story in the form of a novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan. Seven-year-old Raami is the innocent narrator who tells of living through the Cambodian genocide.

Larissa Reinhart's Portrait of a Dead Guy looks like a fun debut mystery. "In Halo, Georgia, folks know Cherry Tucker as big in mouth, small in stature, and able to sketch a portrait faster than buckshot rips from a ten gauge." When a wealthy family wants a portrait of their murdered son in his coffin, Cherry scrambles to win the commission. But, Cherry faces all kinds of trouble, between ex-boyfriends, her flaky family, and outwitting a killer. This just looks fun.

In Michael Ridpath's Far North, Magnus Jonson is a Boston detective working with the Icelandic police department. In 1934, two boys playing in the lava fields see something they shouldn't. Seventy-five years later, when the credit crunch hits, people feel someone ought to pay. In a small country, it doesn't take much to determine who is responsible, make a list, and then cross them off, one by one. As bankers and politicians end up dead, Magnus uncovers a conspiracy, and finds that earlier crimes are catching up.

I've already read terrific comments about Courtney Miller Santo's debut novel, The Roots of the Olive Tree. Set in northern California, it brings to life five generations of women, the secrets that divide them, and the love that ultimately brings them together. A fellow blogger loved it. But, I'm hopeful because of a quote on the back from Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston. "Take some time to enjoy a story of the multigenerational olive-growing Keller family headed by 112-year-old matriarch Anna. Family secrets and lost loves all set amongst the fragrant orchard. For fans of Anne Rivers Siddons and Sarah Addison Allen."

And, the last book is a debut novel as well, M.L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans. After four years on the Western front, Tom Sherbourne returns home to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock. He takes a young wife, Isabel to that isolated island. Years later, after two miscarriages and a stillbirth, Isabel hears a baby's cry. A boat washed up, carrying a dead man and a living baby. Despite Tom's misgivings, Isabel keeps the baby, only to discover two years later that their choice destroyed someone else.

August appears to be a month of discovery with so many debut novelists. I hope sometime in August you discover a book treasure or two.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Winners and Medical Thrillers Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contests. Linda Castillo's Gone Missing will go to Peter G. of Powell, OH and Jon M. from Marysville, WA. Ocean Beach by Wendy Wax will go to Susan R. of Virginia Beach, VA. The winners will all receive their books from the publicists.

This week, I'm giving away two medical thrillers. Michael Palmer's Oath of Office, the story of a troubled doctor who goes on a shooting spree, and the doctor who is blamed for the tragedy, is a thriller that blends science, genetic engineering and politics. When that second doctor goes looking for answers, he finds a conspiracy that leads to the highest positions of political power.

Kira Peikoff's Living Proof is a second thriller that deals with medical ethics. It's a story set in the near future when fertility clinics still exist, but destroying any viable embryo is considered first-degree murder. When an undercover agent investigates a renowned doctor, he finds his own faith in his mission unraveling.

Would you like to win Oath of Office or Living Proof? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject headings should read, "Win Oath of Office" or "Win Living Proof." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will close at 6 PM PT on Thursday, July 5. I'll draw the numbers by random number generator then.

The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins

Ace Atkins' latest gritty crime novel, The Lost Ones, takes readers into the heart of Mississippi, where industry has pulled out, men have returned home from years in foreign wars, damaged in spirit and body, to find few jobs waiting. Religion or drinking offer the best opportunities for enjoyment. It's a situation where drugs and crime could flourish.

After ten years serving as a Ranger in Afghanistan, Quinn Colson isn't even thirty. But, he returned home to Tibbeha County, Mississippi, where he cleaned up one mess, and now he's the sheriff. He has a small department of just nine, after he kicked out a number of dishonest cops. He can count on Chief Deputy Lillie Virgil to keep him honest, even when he has to deal with the County Supervisors who seem to have their fingers in a few too many pies.

Quinn was a hellraiser as a kid, but he straightened out, thanks to Uncle Sam. That's not necessarily true for a few other veterans that returned home. Boom Kimbrough came home with one arm. Now, he drinks and starts fights in bars. Donnie Varner came home, runs a shooting range and a gun shop, but he's interested in something bigger. When he runs into a hot woman working in a carnival, Donnie agrees to supply her friends with some guns. How about one hundred guns to a group of Mexicans? It isn't long before an ATF agent shows up saying the Mexican cartels are sending buyers into Mississippi, a state not exactly known for strict gun laws.

Now Quinn has two big problems in his county, illegal sales of guns, and the illegal trafficking of children. Those two cases are somehow linked, and Quinn and his department aren't happy with either problem in their county.

The Lost Ones is the second novel to feature Quinn Colson, following The Ranger. This one easily stands on its own. I didn't read the first one, and had no problem picking up this story. It's a dark story, reflective of the current situation in the country. Veterans are returning home after long years in the service, to find no jobs. And, small rural counties will have a number of returning vets, since young men went for money and for patriotism.

Ace Atkins has created realistic characters, and provided heroes in the form of Quinn Colson and his deputies. The Lost Ones is a dark novel, with multiple stories, people who can't necessarily be trusted, and a few points where law enforcement is not just black and white. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes Lee Child's Jack Reacher. But, Quinn Colson has returned home to straighten out Tibbehan County, Mississippi.

Ace Atkins' website is

The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins. G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2012. ISBN 9780399158766 (hardcover), 352p.

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Target: Tinos by Jeffrey Siger

Jeffrey Siger's Chief Inspector Kaldis series has everything I enjoy in a police procedural series; well-developed characters, clever banter between the cops, and interesting crimes with unexpected twists. However, like the other books, his latest, Target: Tinos, has something so many others don't. Siger adds his knowledge of Greece, its politics, history, and beauty, and that knowledge makes Target: Tinos stand out from other police procedurals.

It's just two weeks until Andreas Kaldis' wedding to socially prominent widow, Lila Valdi. Bad timing for a crime on the island of Tinos, home to the Church of Panagia Evangelistria, the Lourdes of Greece. The remains of two men were found in a burnt out van. They had been chained, wrapped in the Greek flag, and left with a note, "Revenge or Death." With the play on Greece's national slogan, the media was in an uproar, and Kaldis' boss wanted him to make sure the investigation was handled properly. As head of the Greek police's Special Crimes Division, Kaldis has the authority to investigate anywhere.

After the victims are identified as tsigani, gypsies, the media disappears, and Kaldis' boss wants the case to disappear as well. The government is afraid some members of the E.U. would use the murders, possible hate crimes, as a reason to end financial aid to Greece at a time when Greece was desperate for assistance. But, it's too late. Once Andreas and his team have their teeth into a case, they're not going to let it go just because it's politically wise. Kaldis doesn't care who the victims are. Someone has been killed. And, once the team discovers there might be a larger crime target, and that minority groups have been paid to move to Tinos, they're not going to give up, even when the threats hit close to home.

In this case, threats do hit close to home. As Lila prepares for their wedding, Andreas must also prepare with more security than expected. It's the society wedding of the summer, and Kaldis doesn't know if he's a personal target because of his investigation on Tinos, or the gathered government ministers and other prominent business and social leaders might be the target of terrorists. He refuses to change the wedding to a private ceremony, seeing that as a victim of terrorism.

Target: Tinos offers the best of all crime novels, combining crime and surprising twists as Siger continues to make Andreas Kaldis a realistic figure, expanding on his personal life. Those who have read the books before will appreciate the return of familiar characters: Tassos, the chief homicide investigator of rhte Cyclades Islands, Yianni Kouros, Kaldis' assistant, Andreas' secretary, Maggie, who knows where all the bodies are buried, and Lila Valdi, the woman Andreas loves, who is intelligent and provides one of the keys to the mystery. The team surrounding Kaldis brings these books to life.

However, these mysteries couldn't exist without Jeffrey Siger's knowledge and love of Greece's past and present. He includes background of the Greek War of Independence, Church history, Tinos' history, and the current economic issues of Greece in Target: Tinos. Siger's books have a richness lacking in many mysteries. Target: Tinos just adds to Jeffrey Siger's reputation as a storyteller who can bring a country, and a mystery, to life.

Jeffrey Siger's website is

Target: Tinos by Jeffrey Siger. Poisoned Pen Press. 2012. ISBN 9781590589762 (hardcover), 259p.

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer

"When they say 'Once upon a time'...they're lying. It's not once upon a time. It's not even twice upon a time. It's hundreds of times, over and over, every time someone opens up the pages of this dusty old book." That's Oliver, the prince in Between the Lines, a novel by Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha Van Leer. Between the Lines is also the name of the fairy tale where Prince Oliver lives and speaks his lines over and over again. What happens when a character knows he's a character, and desperately wants out? What happens when a reader falls for the character, and wants to help him escape? That's the premise of this young adult novel that will touch the heart of every teen and adult woman who was a loner who turned to books, and saw those books come to life.

At fifteen, Delilah McPhee is one of those girls. She's a ninth grader whose first words in the book are, "I'm weird." She would rather spend time with a book than participate in sports, or be outdoors. She's a loner whose attempts at sports only cause her to be a social pariah. She injures the most popular girl in school, hangs out with a girl with a pink Mohawk and safety pins in her ears, and lives with her mom after her father left them five years earlier. And, when she comes across an old fairy tale, Between the Lines, in her school library, she falls for Prince Oliver. She reads the book over and over again until one day, she realizes the book has changed. And, it isn't long before Oliver leaves her a message, "Help me."

Between the Lines is the story of two misfits reaching out for each other. As Delilah and Prince Oliver attempt to find a way to get Oliver out of the book, they grow closer to each other, discovering neither had a father in their life. And, a prince who lacks the gift of courage, and a girl who lacks confidence, scheme and create plans to change the course of a story.

The illustrations in this book are by Yvonne Gilbert and Scott M. Fischer, and they're gorgeous, and appropriate. The book is told in three parts, illustrated by the ink. Prince Oliver lives in a fairy tale, and that story is told with colored illustrations suitable for a fairy tale, and black print. It begins, "Once upon a time," and it truly is the fairy tale. Oliver tells his own story in purple print, and each time the READER opens the book, Oliver is thrust back into the fairy tale at the point where the book is opened. Delilah's story is in green ink.

Between the Lines is a story for young adults who feel as if they are misfits. At the same time, those of us who were once lonely readers will find the book beautiful and moving. It takes courage for both teens to attempt to change their roles in the world. This book isn't for all of Jodi Picoult's adult readers. It's a young adult novel aimed at that market. At the same time, that aim targets the heart of so many adult readers. It's a fairy tale in which the reader and the character actually have a say in the outcome, with a little help from one more lonely teen. Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer illustrate what many of us readers and dreamers always suspected. There really is life Between the Lines.

Jodi Picoult's website is

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer. Simon & Schuster. 2012. ISBN 9781431635751 (hardcover), 353p.

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

Monday, June 25, 2012

Poisoned Pen's Annual Conference

I know I've read complaints before that people didn't know about the Poisoned Pen Conferences, and would have attended if they had known. This year, the Poisoned Pen's annual conference is Friday, July 13 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

FRIDAY JULY 13 The Poisoned Pen Conference

Howard L Anderson. Mark De Castrique, Timothy Hallinan, Alex Kava, Jesse Kellerman, Martin Limon, Francine Mathews, Dana Stabenow
Come the night before to enjoy Linda Fairstein and Joseph Kanon, see their Events — 7:00 PM also at the Arizona Biltmore. Cash bar and buffet.

The Theme: Entertain the Exotic!

AZ Biltmore 9:30 AM-4:30 PM
Registration $20 Cash Buffet lunch

Programs with each author, Lunch Speaker: Dana Stabenow, Book Room and Signing
Susan's Photos will once again be on display/sale adding a range of new subjects including Viet Nam and Cambodia. They weer a smash at last year's conference. 

Make it a Vacation or Staycation: Special Room Rate at the Arizona Biltmore for July (excluding the 4th): $95/night plus taxes. Call 800-950-0086 using Rate ID 2726435 or go to

Howard Anderson signs Albert of Adelaide (Twelve $25) Debut/Modern Firsts Pick about a Platypus going rogue in Australia

Mark DeCastrique signs The 13th Target (Poisoned Pen $25 or $15), a thriller set in the Federal Reserve system

Timothy Hallinan signs The Fear Artist (Soho $25) Poke Rafferty/Bangkok

Alex Kava signs Fireproof (Knopf $25) Maggie O'Dell works arson/murder in DC

Jesse Kellerman signs The Potboiler (Putnam $26) A literary mystery/caper about two authors

Martin Limon signs The Joy Brigade (Soho $25) A Lee Child style thriller: George Sueno of the Slicky Boys in 1970s North Korea

Francine Mathews 
signs Jack 1939 (Riverhead $27) JFK, spy, FDR and J Edgar as you have never seen them

Dana Stabenow
9:20 AM Welcome (with coffee)
9:30-10:15 AM: Alex Kava
10:30-11:15 AM Francine Mathews
11:30: 12:15: Jesse Kellerman
Lunch and Book signing for Kava and Kellerman
1:15-2:00 PM Howard Anderson
2:15-3:00 PM Mark DeCastrique
3:15-4:00 PM Timothy Hallinan & Martin Limon
4:00-4:30 PM Panel for questions plus booksigning

Annual Poisoned Pen Conference at the Arizona Biltmore; Experience the Exotic is the Theme This Year
July 13, 2012
The Poisoned Pen
480-947-2974 / 888-560-9919
February 17, 2012
The Arizona Biltmore
Google Map
Arizona Biltmore, 2400 E Missouri Ave, Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona 85016-3197, Phoenix, AZ, 85251, United States

Ocean Beach by Wendy Wax

Wendy Wax' Ten Beach Road introduced Madeline Singer, Avery Lawford and Nicole Grant in a book that became a popular summer read last year. Now, in Ocean Beach, the three women travel to Miami, with the addition of Madeline's daughter Kyra, Kyra's toddler son, and Avery's mother, Deirdre. The women who remodeled a house, hoping to sell it, are now hoping a new renovation project will be picked up by a television network.

The women are all desperately in need of cash and work. They haven't yet sold their beach house, and they're hoping they can prove how good they are on the pilot for a TV show called Do Over. They agreed to renovate the house, without knowing what it looks like. What they discover is The Millicent, an Art Deco Streamline house that seriously needs work, everything from new electrical work and air conditioning to tile and woodwork. They also learn the network didn't tell them Do Over has become a reality show with a cameraman and sound technician covering their every move. The best part of The Millicent is the owner, Max Golden, a widower in his nineties, who was once part of a successful comedy team with his beloved wife, Millie. But, Max has a secret, a promise he made to Millie when she was dying.

As the women sweat over their new project, they also deal with problems that arise in their own lives. Avery is not happy with Deirdre's presence, the mother who deserted her when she was a child. Deirdre's desperate to find a place in her angry daughter's life. And, Avery, a gorgeous petite blond, is determined to prove her worth as an architect and project manager. Nicole is still struggling with the loss of her matchmaking business after her brother swindled and bankrupted all kinds of people. After twenty-six years of marriage and two children, Madeline's husband can't cope with his loss of job, and her role as the breadwinner. Kyra, who filmed the first project, is angry she has to work with the network's film crew. At the same time, she finds herself drawn again to her son's father, a superstar who wants to see his son, despite his marriage to a celebrity wife.

Wax' story is an enjoyable one. The women wrestle with personal issues as they renovate The Millicent. It's fascinating to read about the Art Deco house, and the restoration of it. Anyone who enjoys watching shows about houses and renovation will enjoy those aspects of the book. But, Ocean Beach is, most of all, a story of strong women and friendship.

Ten Beach Road was popular with reading groups, and I'm sure Ocean Beach will be as well. Wendy Wax' cast of characters range from a twenty-four-year-old single mother to women in their forties and fifties, as well as a ninety-year-old man with a vivid memory of the past. Part of the appeal of this book is the various ages of the women, and the problems they deal with at those stages of their lives. All of the women cope with problems, and, of course, there's Max' secret. Wax' characters are well-developed, likable, strong women who depend on each other for friendship and support. None of them depend on men to make their lives right for them. What female reader wouldn't be inspired by this group of strong women?

Even if you didn't read Ten Beach Road, it's easy to pick up the stories of the women of Ocean Beach. It's time to take your own imaginary trip to Miami's South Beach, meet up with this likable group of women, and sit back as they find that friendship can get them through rough times, and even danger. Ocean Beach just might be this summer's most enjoyable beach read.

The publicist is even offering one lucky reader the chance to win Ocean Beach. If you would like to win, email me at Your subject heading should read, "Win Ocean Beach." Include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. and Canada only, please, and no P.O. boxes. I'll pick the winner on Thursday, June 28 at 6 PM PT. Good luck!

Wendy Wax' website is

Ocean Beach by Wendy Wax. Berkley. 2012. ISBN 9780425245415 (paperback), 448p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publicist sent me a copy of the book in order to participate in the author's blog tour.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Grace Among Thieves by Julie Hyzy

When I read complaints about cozy mysteries and the amateur sleuth getting involved in all the investigations, I think about Julie Hyzy. Yes, her amateur sleuths do get involved, but it's through no fault of their own. And, as in her latest mystery, Grace Among Thieves, Hyzy is more than willing to show that her sleuths are human, fallible, and they make mistakes. It's no wonder that Julie Hyzy is an award-winning author with some of the best cozy mysteries out there. Her series books are just what cozy mysteries should be, filled with likable, flawed characters a reader would like to know, settings we appreciate, and despicable villains. Just perfect.

Grace Among Thieves, the third book in the Manor House mystery, once again features Grace Wheaton, curator and manager of Marshfield Manor, an estate in Emberstowne, a small town in the North Carolina mountains. Along with the Bennett Marshfield, the septuagenarian owner of the manor, she's trying to bring the house up-to-date, increasing security, and bringing in a film team to create a dvd to showcase the estate. When small valuables start to disappear around the house, Grace and Bennett fear it might be his stepdaughter, Hillary, a cloying woman who is trying to win her way into the dvd while urging Bennett to allow her a bigger part in running the estate. But, a surprise phone call from Grace's mentor reveals those thefts could be an indicator of bigger trouble to come.

The trouble isn't quite what Grace expects though. While a tour is going on in the house, one visitor is murdered, and another is shot. Now, Grace has theft, murder, and an appealing recuperating victim on her hands. She's worked with the local police force before, and even Grace's recalcitrant assistant, Frances, admits Grace does a better job finding killers than the police do. That's one reason one of the detectives, Flynn, gets so angry when Grace is involved. This time, Grace's mistakes could lead to tragedy.

What are you looking for when you read a cozy mystery? If you're looking for a cast of characters that include the sleuth, loyal friends, an attractive setting, and a duplicitous villain, you can pick up Grace Among Thieves with confidence that you've found the right book. If you're looking for mature sleuths who still grow and learn from their mistakes, Hyzy is the right author. Grace Wheaton, like Ollie Paras in Hyzy's White House Chef series, is a mature woman in her thirties who juggles a career and a complex personal life. Relationships don't always work out for either woman, but they grow and move on. Readers of cozy mysteries often care about the characters as much as they do about the mysteries themselves. Julie Hyzy successfully combines all the elements cozy readers want in her latest mystery, Grace Among Thieves.

(And, a note. Kudos to the cover illustrator, Kimberly Schamber. If that cover doesn't define a cozy mystery, nothing does.)

Julie Hyzy's website is

Grace Among Thieves by Julie Hyzy. Berkley Prime Crime. 2012. ISBN 9780425251393 (paperback), 278p.

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

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley

Starvation Lake, the first book in Bryan Gruley's Starvation Lake series, went on to win the Barry and Anthony Awards for Best Paperback. Gruley may have said that he didn't know he was writing a mystery when he wrote the first one, but readers recognized the quality of this outstanding debut mystery in which he created a remarkable set of characters, including the town of Starvation Lake itself.

Gus Carpenter never intended to return home to Starvation Lake, Michigan. Once a goalie with the outstanding River Rats hockey team coached by Jack Blackburn, Gus gave up the goal that cost the team their only shot at a state championship. College and a job as a journalist in Detroit kept him away, until he returned to Starvation Lake as a disgrace, fired and facing a lawsuit. Now, as associate editor of the Pine County Pilot, he faced daily struggles to put anything worthwhile in the newspaper. And, when the sheriff finds parts of a snowmobile washed up at Starvation Lake, Gus has daily fights to get that story in the newspaper.

Years earlier, Jack Blackburn was reported to have drowned in Walleye Lake. Neither his body nor the snowmobile was ever found, but the entire town mourned the loss of the coach. So, what was his snowmobile doing washed up at Starvation Lake? Gus and his reporter, Joanie McCarthy, fight to uncover a story that even Gus is afraid of facing. And, the truth is worse than anyone in town would ever expect.

Gruley'e debut mystery is a complex story of small town politics and entwined lives and secrets. It launched a successful series filled with fascinating characters, beginning with Gus and his best friend, Soupy. In creating Starvation Lake as a community, he found a way to introduce a town where history is just a story away. Everyone knows the past and it resonates in the present. Gruley successfully manipulates the politics of a small town, and that of the newspaper business.

I may be a couple years behind in reading Starvation Lake, but it won't take long to catch up with the other two books about Gus Carpenter and Starvation Lake.

Bryan Gruley's website is

Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley. Touchstone. 2009. ISBN 9781416563624 (paperback), 370p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, June 22, 2012

Never Tell by Alafair Burke

Sometimes it's harder to read two outstanding crime novels in a row than it is to read books that are just so-so. Authors such as Linda Castillo and Alafair Burke can spoil a reader, and it's hard to be satisfied with the next book. Both of those authors have surpassed previous efforts with the fourth book in a series. Never Tell, the fourth novel of suspense in the Ellie Hatcher series by Burke is a tightly written, beautifully laid out crime novel. They don't get much better than this.

It appeared that sixteen-year-old Julia Whitmire committed suicide. She was found in the bathtub, wrists slashed, with a suicide note nearby. NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher saw no reason to believe otherwise. But, Julia's mother, Katherine Whitmire insisted her daughter would not have killed herself. And, when she used all of her power and influence to push for a full investigation, Ellie was only angry. In her opinion, it was an open-and-shut case.

Ellie's partner, J.J. Rogan, warned her about her tendency to rush to judgment. She had a closed mind when it came to this case. Ellie had issues with suicides, with parents, and, definitely with rich people who threw their weight around. And, the Whitmires had enough clout to force the police to rush in the course of the investigation. Despite Ellie's preconceived ideas, there really were a few things to investigate.

Why did Julia's exclusive school shut down all access to the students, even refusing to answer parents' questions? Did it have anything to do with a previous suicide at the school? Where did Julia get the prescription drugs found in her possession? What kind of secrets did Julia keep from her best friend, Ramona? Could a group of homeless teens be involved in Julia's death, even though she appeared to have a lifestyle worlds apart from theirs? And, who was the target of the threats written on Julia's computer?

Ellie learns there are a number of secrets surrounding Julia and her friends. Each time she and Rogan seem to have a handle on the case, it turns in a radically different direction. And, Ellie may be forced to realize that everything isn't as concrete, as black-and-white as she would like it to be.

Burke masterfully handles the investigation in Never Tell. It's easy to be caught up in this story with its twists and turns. Never Tell is pitch perfect. The author plays fair with the reader, but still continues to add surprising revelations, even at the end.

It's a treat to read such an intriguing story while also encountering characters that are so well-written. Ellie Hatcher continues to change and grow, sometimes reluctantly and despite herself. Once she is forced to admit, even if it's only to herself, that she has been pigheaded and wrong, she digs into the investigation. And, Ellie has to face those same realizations in her personal life. Sometimes, she is going to have to be forced to compromise, and not be so pigheaded.

Sometimes I can go a month or two reading enjoyable books, but nothing that I would say is remarkable. Alafair Burke's Never Tell is one of those unforgettable crime novels that comes along now and then. Don't miss it.

Alafair Burke's website is She's on Facebook at and can be found on Twitter at AlafairBurke.

For the second year in a row, Alafair hosted the Duffer Awards in June. Readers have a chance to vote on unusual match-ups in crime novels. Check out the Duffer Awards at

Never Tell by Alafair Burke. Harper. 2012. ISBN 9780061999161 (hardcover), 355p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy of the book to participate in the TLC Blog Tour.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Winners and Gone Missing Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of this week's contests. Carolyn Hart's Rendezvous in Veracruz will go to Virginia D. from Tempe, AZ. Escape from Paris, also by Hart, goes to Kay M. from Lubbock, TX . I'll mail those books out tomorrow. The winner of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is Sandra W. of Trumbull, CT.  The publicist will be mailing that book.

If you read the previous blog entry, you know I have two copies of Linda Castillo's marvelous thriller, Gone Missing, to give away. Set in Amish Country, Police Chief Kate Burkholder and Ohio Special Agent John Tomasetti investigate a case involving missing Amish teenagers, a case with a tragic history that goes back farther than either of them expect. Although this book is the fourth in a series, you can read it as a standalone. I do recommend you read the entire series in order, though, because of the development of the characters. And, Gone Missing? It will be on my list of favorite crime novels of 2012.

So, if you would like to win Gone Missing, email me at Your subject line should read, "Win Gone Missing." Please include your name and mailing address. Entrants from the U.S. only please.

The contest will end at 6 PM PT on Thursday, June 28 when I select the two winners using a random number generator. Good luck!

Gone Missing by Linda Castillo

If you haven't been reading Linda Castillo's thrillers set in Ohio's Amish country, why not? I've been raving about these books since 2009. It seems as if I've reviewed a number of mysteries dealing with the Amish lately. Castillo's series is the darkest one, with fascinating, damaged characters. Her latest book, Gone Missing, is so good that I got up at 3:30 yesterday morning to finish it.

Kate Burkholder is chief of police in Painters Mill, Ohio, a community that includes Amish families. She's not happy when she has to break up a fight between teens, and even less happy when she discovers one of the girls involved is a fifteen-year-old Amish girl on rumspringa. Rumspringa is the time when Amish teens are allowed to experience the outside world, giving them the opportunity to decide if they want to be baptized and live under Amish rules for the rest of their lives. And, Sadie Miller reminds Kate of her own self, a rebellious Amish girl who eventually left, went to college, and was cut off from her family.

With an officer on vacation, Kate has put in long hours, but when she receives a phone call from John Tomasetti asking her to consult on a case, she's eager to help. Over the last year and a half, Tomasetti, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation has become a colleague, a friend, and Kate's lover. Although they keep their work lives professional, the two are always aware of their past histories, and that they need and depend on each other. In this investigation, Tomasetti has a case in which there are two missing teenagers who are Amish. He's hoping she can help since she's fluent in Pennsylvania Dutch and has an intimate knowledge of the plain life.

Each time Kate, Tomasetti, and fellow officers approach the parents of the missing girls, it breaks Kate's heart to see the expectations and sorrow in the mother's eyes. However, the case only gets worse as they uncover accounts of other Amish teens who have gone missing. And, then Kate is called back to Painters Mill when a local girl disappears.

Castillo excels at character development. As the narrator, Kate reveals her inner struggles. And, she and Tomasetti both struggle with their past. Kate is aware of that. "People like us excel at keeping secrets, especially when they're big ones." And, this particular case, with the missing girls, tears at both of them. "There are a lot of themes running through this case, threads that hit a little too close to home for both of us." These characters are all the more interesting because of their flaws.

However, Castillo also develops her minor characters. The other members of Kate Burkholder's team in the police department may not have major roles, but they are unique people who come alive in the story. And, they are essential to a police department. Castillo's books may be fast-paced thrillers, but they have elements of police procedurals as the police carefully follow clues and develop cases.

You can't overlook the contrast between the quiet Amish life and the violent crimes that affect their community in these books. Castillo's details of the Amish lifestyle are so beautifully revealed that the brutal crimes are even more shocking. Her thrillers are effective because of that contrast.

Linda Castillo won me over with the first book in this series, Sworn to Silence. Start at the beginning of this series, and get to know Kate Burkholder and John Tomasetti. You won't regret watching them develop as characters, or watching Kate develop as police chief. And, Gone Missing will be going on the list as one of my favorite crime novels of 2012.

(Note: Check back on my blog after 6 PM PT tonight when I kick off this week's contest. I'll be giving away two copies of Gone Missing.)

Linda Castillo's website is or you can find more information at and

Gone Missing by Linda Castillo. St. Martin's Minotaur. 2012. ISBN 9780312658564 (hardcover), 277p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it, and the publicist is supplying the two books for the giveaway that starts tonight.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

July Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

Just a peek at Josh, and this month's mysteries can actually be seen since the video isn't as dark. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I'm glad I agreed to participate in the blog tour for Gillian Flynn's new psychological thriller, Gone Girl. It's one of the hottest books out there, and I'm going to be able to offer one giveaway winner a copy of the book.  And, I can't wait to see what readers think about the two characters in this book. The characters continue to surprise right down to the last page.

Nick Dunne and his wife, Amy, seemed to have a perfect marriage, as long as they lived in Manhattan. However, by the time their fifth anniversary rolled around, they had both lost their jobs as writers, lost most of Amy's money, and moved to Nick's Missouri hometown. In alternating chapters in the first section of the book, Nick and Amy discuss their past, their marriage, and the time leading up to their fifth anniversary. That was the day that Amy disappeared. It isn't long before Nick becomes the number one suspect in Amy's disappearance. Nick isn't the perfect husband he appears to be. His behavior, his affect in the press conference, and even his attempts at investigating on his own lead the police to suspect him. The biggest question? Where is Amy, and is she dead?

Now, my reason for wanting to hear what other people think of the two main characters? While the story is intriguing and complex, Nick and Amy are two of the most manipulative characters I've ever come across in a book. By the end of the book, I didn't like or trust either of them, but I had to see what happened. And, I really can't say more about that without spoiling some aspect of this riveting story. This story of a marriage unraveling is voyeuristic. It's as if we're watching an out of control car, knowing someone is going to get hurt, but not knowing how bad it's going to be.

There are a number of other bloggers participating in TLC's blog tour for Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, if you'd like to see what they had to say.

Gillian Flynn’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, June 4th:  Book Reviews by Elizabeth A. White
Tuesday, June 5th:  “That’s Swell!”
Wednesday, June 6th:  Girls Just Reading
Wednesday, June 6th:  The Huffington Post Books – Gillian Flynn interview
Thursday, June 7th:  Bewitched Bookworms
Monday, June 11th:  A Bookworm’s World
Wednesday, June 13th:  Stephanie’s Written Word
Thursday, June 14th:  Life in Review
Friday, June 15th:  House of Crime and Mystery
Monday, June 18th: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, June 19th:  Lesa’s Book Critiques
Wednesday, June 20th:  Jen’s Book Thoughts
Thursday, June 21st:  Life in the Thumb
Friday, June 22nd:  Jenn’s Bookshelves
Tuesday, June 26th:  You’ve GOTTA Read This!
Wednesday, June 27th:  The Broke and the Bookish
Thursday, June 28th:  Chaotic Compendiums
Tuesday, July 3rd:  Twisting the Lens
Thursday, July 5th:  Colloquium

And, as I mentioned, I can give away one copy of Gone Girl to a winner. Email me at Your subject line should read, "Win Gone Girl." Include your name and mailing address. Rules for the contest limit entries to the U.S. and Canada only, with no P.O. boxes. The contest will close at 6 p.m. PT this Thursday, June 21. I'll notify the winner, and the publicist will send the copy of the book.

Good luck! No matter how you feel about the characters, you'll find this book compelling.

Gillian Flynn's website is

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Random House. 2012. ISBN 9780307588364 (hardcover), 432p.

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

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Bad Day for Mercy by Sophie Littlefield

Poor Stella Hardesty. There she is, trying to be good, preparing for a half-marathon just before her fifty-first birthday, looking pretty good, and catching the eye of a good-looking man. But, Stella can't ever catch a break in her personal life. Once again, she's thrust into trouble in Sophie Littlefield's latest crime novel, A Bad Day for Mercy.

When Stella's sister, Gracellen calls needing help, she really doesn't know what Stella is capable of. Gracellen and her husband, Chess, received a nice little box, containing the ear of Chess' son, Chip. Chip was always a gambler, and the demand is for $30,000. So, Stella packs up the tools of her trade, a few handcuffs, a few weapons, and heads for Wisconsin, and another fine mess.

Stella may appear to be the just the owner of Hardesty Sewing Machine Repair & Sales. She also has another business that stems from her past life as an abused wife. Her second business "involved straightening out all manner of abusers and deadbeats and worthless husbands and boyfriends." So, she's prepared for all eventualities. She isn't prepared to find her nephew, Chip, and his Russian girlfriend carving up her husband's body in the kitchen. They claim they didn't kill him. And, Stella believes Chip, even if she isn't quite so sure about Natalya.

It isn't long before Stella is knee deep in trouble. When she calls up her friend and employee, Chrissy, Chrissy sums it up beautifully. "So you got two hormonal teenage boys, a bloody murder, illegal doctors, a business feud, a illegal immigrant situation, all of it circlin' around a relative you don't hardly even know, and tomorrow's your birthday. Well, ain't you managed to step into just a fine mess."

Once again, Sophie Littlefield lands Stella in trouble. It's the kind of trouble that Littlefield excels at creating, and her character excels in handling. It would take a hardened reader to resist Stella's charm, wisdom, and the humor in these capers. A Bad Day for Mercy is a true caper, an adventure that goes wrong with a character who just manages to skirt the law. Even the local sheriff, Goat Jones, has a hard time resisting Stella. Why would any reader want to resist? Stella Hardesty is a grown-up Stephanie Plum, slightly hardened from living a tough life, able to take care of herself, but a wonderful character with a heart of gold. And, A Bad Day for Mercy will just add to Stella's reputation for ingenuity and heart.

Sophie Littlefield's website is

A Bad Day for Mercy by Sophie Littlefield. Minotaur. 2012. ISBN 9780312648381 (hardcover), 260p.

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

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Robert Dugoni & Bryan Gruley at the Poisoned Pen

Bryan Gruley and Robert Dugoni

When Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen Bookstore, introduced Robert Dugoni and Bryan Gruley, she joked that she had referred to them in her newsletter as "arm candy". She was told by staff that women are "arm candy". Men are "eye candy". She was pleased to introduce Bob and Bryan because they were not only nice looking men, but also very nice guys. She said that's not always the case.

Before she went any further, something came up about dogs, and she said Bryan had met her dog, Odin. He said, oh, yes. He and his wife had dinner at Barbara's house, and her husband, Rob, made a great dinner. They were in the dining room when they hear the clatter of a dish, and Rob hollered "Bad dog!" Odin was eating the pate.

Bryan is the author of the Starvation Lake trilogy. He didn't start out to write a trilogy. When he wrote Starvation Lake, he wrote one book. He didn't know it was a mystery. Then he wrote The Hanging Tree. And, his new book is The Skeleton Box. Bob told him those are great titles, and wanted to know if they were his choice. The answer was yes. Barbara said publishers like labels, and these books are called Starvation Lake mysteries, rather than Gus Carpenter mysteries, after the main character. Gruley said Starvation Lake is really a character in his books.

When Barbara mentioned Dugoni's David Sloane books, she said they are tagged David Sloane thrillers so they come up in a database. Bob said it's interesting though that Simon & Schuster have not put David Sloane on the covers of the books. They want each of the books to be able to be read as standalones. They want readers to pick up any book and read it without thinking they need to have earlier ones. When Barbara said they are tagged as David Sloane books for Barnes and Noble and Amazon, the conversation briefly switched to Amazon.

Amazon just bought 800,000 square feet of office space in Seattle. Barbara made the comment that a virtual business now has 800,000 square feet of virtual presence.Bob, who lives in Seattle, said it's an entrepreneurial city. They're always looking for the next big thing. The comment was made that there are only 800,000 people in downtown Seattle. It seems crowded because it's funneled into one area because of the surrounding water.

Barbara asked Bryan if he was no longer Chicago bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. He left there last year, and went to Bloomberg Businessweek because he wanted to write again.

Robert Dugoni was the first to talk about his new book, The Conviction. Bob said he wrote his first book, The Jury Master, as a standalone. So he put his lawyer character, David Sloane, through the wringer. To this day, it's his best selling novel. Last year's book, Murder One, was a trial book. He just wanted to go back and write another fun book like the first one. The Conviction is his new book.

Bob was looking an idea for a book with a bad judge in it. That's a violation of our trust because they are supposed to be honest and incorruptible. What happens with that system breaks down? Then, he read an article about two judges convicted in Pennsylvania for sentencing young men to a for-profit camp, and getting kickbacks of up to one million dollars. Young men were sentenced with no parents or lawyers at the trials. The longer they were in, the more money the guy got. This went on for three years. The reviews of The Conviction, based on this idea, have been very good. The only negative review came from Publishers' Weekly. They said in this day and age, Sloane would have enough connections that this wouldn't happen. But, it did really happen in Pennsylvania.

Dugoni wanted to set his novel near Yosemite in the Gold Country. He hoped to set it in some small town, and went from town to town looking for the perfect place. But, everyone in each town was so nice that he couldn't do it. So he made up a town, Trulock. And, he named a couple other towns after a friend's sons. Reviewers loved The Conviction, with the action, movement, and Sloane in peril.

Bryan Gruley's Starvation Lake is a fictional town. In the forty-five years Gruley has been going to that area, he's never met anyone up there that is like the bad people he created in the book.

Bryan said he's inspired by images in his head. Starvation Lake, his first book, was inspired by pieces of a snowmobile washed up on the shore of the lake. The Hanging Tree was inspired by a tree filled with hundreds of pairs of shoes.

Larry Wakefield wrote a small book called Ghost Towns of Michigan. The story of one town, Isadore, led to The Skeleton Box. A woman went to a confessional in Milwaukee, and confessed to killing a nun in Isadore. The confession should have stayed there. But, the Archdiocese of Detroit found out, and tried to keep it a secret, but they needed the bones moved to build a new church. Gruley used that background to tell the story of a nun who disappeared in 1944 from St. Valentine's Church in Starvation Lake.

The discussion veered to the popularity of vampires, werewolves, and Fifty Shades of Grey when an audience member complained about the books that appear on the bestseller lists when she wants to see Dugoni and Gruley there. Barbara said books appear on the lists because of word of mouth, often with people who don't read like the audience members do, but pick up a book or two a year based on word of mouth.

Bob said his pet peeve is people who take fiction too seriously. He sees it as escapism. People get too involved in it. He said the best response was from John Lescroart who slammed his fist on a table during a panel and said, "It's fiction, people! We make this shit up!" But some people treat it like nonfiction and critique it as if it was true. Dugoni said people ask him why all the trials go south for Sloane. His response? Well what do you want him to write about?

Bryan agreed. He's writing a series. Things have to go wrong. What do you want him to write about, the hockey team and going for hamburgers? He thinks the stories have to be believable in the world he creates, and consistent with character.

Bob mentioned that he has been nominated for the Harper Lee Award for Legal Novel of the Year. His book, Murder One, is against Michael Connelly's The Fifth Witness and David Ellis' Breach of Trust. Dugoni hasn't read Connelly's book, however he's been told the books are similar, including the ending. He just wanted to let us know that his book came out first. And, it became a running joke for the rest of the evening that we should vote for Bob's book.

Peters told us that David Ellis had prosecuted Governor Rod Blagojevich. Gruley said his friend, Michael Harvey has a book coming out called The Governor. A corrupt governor is prosecuted, and sentenced to jail. When his family is going to take him to jail, he stops at his office, and disappears. Bryan then joked that of course Harvey is a friend. He owns a bar in Chicago.

The subject of mistakes came up. Bob said he was appearing at the Tucson Festival of Books, and received an email that said you make a huge error. You called a Glock a .38. Dugoni emailed back, and said mistakes get made. There were two guns, a Glock and a .38, and his editor messed up. So he told the guy he was going to be in Tucson, and he'd give him a copy of any of his other books. Steve Berry heard this and asked, "You told this guy to show up?" He did show up, picked a book, and hasn't written again.

Gruley said after he wrote Starvation Lake, a guy wrote and said, you can't ice fish for bass. True. Bass hibernate. It was a nice note. Since he's been a reporter for thirty-two years, Brian knows you just admit you made a mistake. Bryan does very little research for his books. He talks to people. And, working at Businessweek, others know who he should contact.

Bob admitted he gets in trouble when he thinks he knows something. He asked Dennis Lehane about the opening of The Given Day, a novel in which Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig are barnstorming. He asked if he did a lot of research. Lehane said he didn't do a lot. He wanted the emotional truth of the story. But, he did check little things.

Bob is obsessive compulsive and researches everything. Harlan Coben does no research. It's fiction, suspense, and he makes it up. His characters aren't professionals. Bob said for the first time ever he hired a girl to do research for him. She was in her senior year at Cornell. He wanted her to research everything she could about juvenile detention centers and everything about marijuana. She thought that would look great on her computer.

Bryan said some of the stories he works on influence his writing. He said if he writes another book in the Starvation Lake series, it will be about natural gas and fracking. Fracking makes the town prosperous. He'll call it The Frack. He did a story about oil in North Dakota that gave him the idea.

Where are the authors going now with their books? Bob is at the end of his contract with Simon & Schuster. He'd like to go forward. He has two good ideas, for either the next Sloane book or a standalone. He's writing a literary novel. As long as he's writing, he's happy. He'd love to continue. A lot depends on what happens in the industry.

Bryan is in love with another idea about a post-industrial town of 300,000 people. One guy built the town, beginning with lumber, then newspapers and more. Now, it's 2000, and something bad happens.

Bryan Gruley and Robert Dugoni bring a great deal of knowledge and humor to any presentation.

Bryan Gruley, Me, and Robert Dugoni

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bryan Gruley for Authors @ The Teague

When Bryan Gruley appeared for Authors @ The Teague, I introduced him as the award-winning author of the Starvation Lake mystery trilogy. He spent sixteen years with The Wall Street Journal, where he shared in a Pulitzer Prize for the coverage of 9/11. He is now a reporter-at-large for Bloomberg News, writing long features for Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. He responded by thanking me, and then told the audience he thinks of me as a friend. He said being a writer is like throwing a message in a bottle off a beach. Librarians are out there picking them up, and saying, there's a book. He told us that anyone who gets his books in the hands of readers is a friend.

Then, he started his program with a story designed to win the heart of any librarian or book lover. He said he seldom read to the audience, but he was going to read to us from a favorite book. He said, this is The Crisscross Shadow by Franklin W. Dixon, an author you might recognize. This is a Hardy Boys mystery. Bryan highlighted this book as an important book in his life. He grew up in a blue collar suburb of Detroit. He was over at a friend's house, and the friend was going on and on about this book he read, and the villain named Brett. Bryan thought in order to be cool, he'd have to read the book. So, he asked his mom for the book. It was probably the first chapter book he ever read. Bryan was enamored of the Hardy Boys. He even made up his own version, the Anderson twins. He wrote and illustrated them, and then read them to the second grade class. His mother encouraged him to write. She also knew he was a hot dog, and liked to have the attention on him. So, by eight or nine Bryan knew he wanted to write.

When Gruley graduated from Notre Dame in 1979, though, he realized he couldn't just sit around and make things up. He took a detour to journalism, a detour that has lasted for thirty-two years. He's worked all over, and it's been a great detour. Bryan is still having a blast. He enjoys being a reporter, asking people what they do.

Gruley's body of work contains a number of narratives, small versions of stories with an arc, beginning, middle and end. He swore he didn't make up the stories. He still had a longing to be a novelist. He talked about it, dreamt about it. But, he never sat his butt down in a chair and wrote. He was intimidated. He didn't know any authors. Then, a friend, Ken Wells, published his first novel. Bryan worked with Ken. He wasn't intimidating. He thought, if Wells can do it, I can at least try.

So, Bryan wrote 25,000 words. His agent didn't like it, but there was a glimmer of hockey in those 25,000 words. Bryan had played hockey since he was eight. There was a rink in his backyard, and rinks all over the neighborhood. His agent suggested a story about middle-aged guys who play hockey in the middle of the night. Right away, he had an idea, mentioned something really bad that happened, and she said, oh, that's good. It always sells.

Gruley set his book two hundred miles north of Detroit in Starvation Lake. Starvation Lake is a small lake three miles north of Big Twin Lake. There's really no town at Starvation Lake, but he put one there. It took him four years to write the book. He did several drafts. He submitted Starvation Lake in April 2006. He had twenty-six rejections. No one knew what to do with the book. Bryan didn't set out to write a mystery. He doesn't read just mysteries. He reads all sorts of things. He said they were nice rejection letters. Some suggested it might be a mystery. One young editor said it best. He said the book fell between two schools. It's too nuanced to be a genre mystery, but it's not literary. Brian concedes the latter point. It's not literary. But he's baffled by the first. He was on the verge of giving up when Touchstone, division of Simon & Schuster signed him to a three book deal. Then, he realized he had to write the other two books.

Starvation Lake came out in 2009. It deals with the death of a hockey coach relating to a snowmobile accident. Years later, the snowmobile parts who up, in a different lake in which it supposedly went down.

Gus Carpenter is the narrator of Starvation Lake. He played hockey for the great River Rat teams of the '70s, the only teams that had the chance to beat the tough teams from Detroit. He also gave up the goal that cost them their only chance at the state championship. He left Starvation Lake for college, and ended up working as a journalist in Detroit until he was fired. He went back to Starvation Lake with his tail between his legs, where he ended up as associate editor at the local newspaper. He's forced to investigate the story about the snowmobile, and learns things that are not so pleasant.

When Gruley turned in his second book, it was terrible. It didn't even have a title. His editor agreed that it was terrible. He was about to go on tour for Starvation Lake. She told him to go on tour, and got him a seven month extension on the second book. So, he threw away that second book. It had too much plot, and not enough story. Some people think it's the same thing. Plot is the skeletal structure. The story is everything else.

Bryan did like one element of his original story. There was a mystery about a tree filled with shoes, but the story was too disconnected from Gus to matter. So, he threw it away and started over, keeping just a couple scenes. He took the tree.

Once Bryan's characters have names they come to life. He named the victim Gracie McBride. She was found hanging in a shoe tree. Why did it matter to Gus? She was his second cousin. She was also Darlene's best friend. Darlene is Gus' on-again, off-again girlfriend. And, Gracie had been fooling around with Soupy, the greatest hockey player ever to come out of Starvation Lake. He threw his career away on drugs and drinking. He is also Gus' best friend. That became The Hanging Tree, which has been optioned for a movie.

Like Gruley's earlier books, The Skeleton Box began with an image. Brian picked up a little book at a package store in Michigan. It was by a Traverse City author, and it was called Ghost Towns in Michigan. It was about towns that had once thrived and then gone away. One of those towns, Isadore, still exists. In 1907, a nun disappeared in the Polish Catholic parish there. The townspeople searched for her, and never found her. Five or six years later, a woman who worked there at Holy Rosary Church went to confession and confessed she murdered the nun, and buried her bones under the church. That should have remained a secret since it was told in the confessional, but it got out, as so many secrets do. The diocese was now building a new church on the site, and they contacted the church there, and told them to get the bones out, and bury them elsewhere. They got caught. That resulted in the longest trial in Michigan's history. The woman who had confessed pleaded not guilty. There was a nonfiction book written about it called Isadore's Secret. It was published by the University of Michigan Press.

This image got Bryan going. The Skeleton Box, his latest book, is set in March 2000. Starvation Lake was set in 1998, and The Hanging Tree in 1999. This book starts with a series of burglaries. The newspaper calls them "Bingo Night Break-Ins" because someone knew the people would be out playing bingo. What was odd is that they didn't take anything, but went through the houses, as if looking for something. There were four or five burglaries, and then one burglary went bad. Darlene's mother was murdered. She was the best friend of Gus' mother, Bea. Darlene's mother died in Bea's house, and Gus has to look into it.

Gus already has problems. He's on the outs with Darlene. His future at the newspaper is iffy since he's on shaky ground with the suits in Traverse. His mother is losing her memory, and has a hard time keeping her story straight.

However, the River Rats hockey team is doing better. They have a great new player. There's also a new Evangelical Christian camp over by the lake, and the man in charge is starting to get involved in the town. His name is Brett, the same as the bad guy in The Crisscross Shadow. That's Gruley's homage to that Hardy Boys book. In fact, at one point, Soupy asks, "What is this, a Hardy Boys mystery?"

In this book, Gus has a distant connection to the disappearance of a young nun from St. Valentine's Church.

Does it get any easier? No. All the books are difficult in their own way. And, if you're ambitious, and want to get better, it doesn't get easier.Just because you continue to do something, that doesn't mean it gets easier. Bryan plays golf, so he knows it's not true that it gets easier. It doesn't necessarily get better.

When he turned in The Skeleton Box, his editor asked him questions he couldn't answer. But, she was patient, and stayed with him. The book covers decades, the 30s, 40s, and 50s, leading up to 2000. He had events in every decade, but hadn't done the boring work of building it up. He needed to see things, so he did a 20-25 page outline, beginning in 1903 with the birth of a future priest. Then, he could see it all. He needed to understand it, and see the cause and effect in order to keep it straight. So, he took seven weeks off last summer to finish The Skeleton Box.

Is the Starvation Lake series a trilogy like Tolkien's Middle Earth trilogy or George Lucas' Star Wars trilogy? It wasn't planned as a trilogy. But, Gruley is resolving issues that spanned all three books. One is the relationship between Gus and his mother. Bryan's readers email him and tell them they love Bea, but they're frustrated by her. She doesn't give up everything she knows.Gus and Bea have a similar mother-son relationship as Bryan did with his mother.

Bryan's characters are entities of their own. They're not based on real people. Saying that, Gus has some of Bryan in him, and so does Soupy. And, there are things in the relationship between Gus and his mother that Bryan had with his mother.

The Skeleton Box is Bryan's favorite of the three books. He's not sure what he's doing next. And, then he ended his formal presentation by reading the end of The Crisscross Shadow.

The first question from the audience involved characters who take over. Bryan said Gus doesn't tell him what to do. However, brains are always working. Usually, Gruley goes by gut instinct. Everything he sees influences him.

Would he ever quit his job, and write just fiction? His wife doesn't want to life in a tent. His journalism pays the bills.

Who are his favorite authors? J.D. Salinger for his short stories; Hemingway. He loves Thomas Harris' Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. He's rereading Dennis Lehane's Mystic River. He just finished Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. That's art. It's harrowing, funny, absurd. It's written as a collection of short stories, but it's actually a memoir about men at war.

And, he ended by answering a question about his Starvation Lake tee shirt. It features a goalie, which is great, but the person who picked the number 76 must be the only person in Canada who doesn't watch hockey because no goalies have 76 as a number. All goalies have low numbers.

Bryan Gruley's website is

The Skeleton Box by Bryan Gruley. Touchstone. 2012. ISBN 9781416563662 (hardcover), 336p.