Friday, August 31, 2012

How Lucky You Are by Kristyn Kusek Lewis

How well do you really know your best friends? Do you truly know what their lives are like, or do you just envy them for the lives they have, thinking they're better off than you are? Kristyn Kusek Lewis explores those questions in her strong debut novel, How Lucky You Are.

Waverly, Kate and Amy have been best friends since just after college. Waverly has always been the link between her friends, but, at thirty-five, she's struggling. She owns a bakery in Maple Hill, Virginia called Maggie's, but she's having trouble paying her bills. She loves Larry, the man she's lived with for ten years, but she hasn't told him she's behind in her share of the bills. And, she wonders why she hasn't pushed Larry for marriage while Kate is married to a man running for governor of Virginia and Amy is married to a doctor and has an adorable daughter, Emma. The opening scene, a dinner party at Waverly's, indicates that everything isn't as rosy as Waverly thinks, but it takes a rude awakening for her to realize what's happening. After a vacation trip to Palm Beach with her friends, it seems that everything falls apart.

Waverly is the narrator of this novel, a moving story about women's friendship, and not taking life for granted. Waverly is the one who feels as if her life is spinning out of control, so it comes as a shock when she realizes her friends' lives are not perfect. In fact, she has to make an important decision. When is it time to risk a friendship in an attempt to save a friend's life?

I had a hard time liking Waverly in the beginning because she was so insecure and needy. However, her character and her feelings are essential to this story, and it became apparent how important her character was, just the way she was written. She was actually perfect for this story.

How Lucky You Are asks interesting questions about life, love and friendship. It's difficult to say more without giving away crucial elements in the story. The book comes with questions for reading groups, and an interesting Author's Note, revealing the impetus behind this story. Kristyn Kusek Lewis' debut novel tackles tough issues, and the author handles the subjects with assurance. The book will leave you wondering. How well do you really know the lives of your best friends?

Kristyn Kusek Lewis' website

How Lucky You Are by Kristyn Kusek Lewis. Grand Central Publishing. 2012. ISBN 9781455502035 (paperback), 340p.
  *****FTC Full Disclosure - I was sent a copy of the book in order to participate in a blog tour. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Winners and A Little Humor Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. P.J. Tracy's Off the Grid will go to Jane L. from Diamondhead, MS. And,  Penny T. from Klamath Falls, OR won Linda Fairstein's Night Watch. I'll put them in the mail tomorrow.

It's time to give away a couple humorous mysteries. Let's start with Donna Andrews' Some Like It Hawk. Meg Langslow is working as a blacksmith at "Caerphilly Days," a festival inspired by the town's notoriety as "The Town That Mortgaged Its Jail." The lender has foreclosed on all Caerphilly's public buildings, but one town employee won't leave. Phineas Throckmorton, the town clerk, has been barricaded in the courthouse basement for over a year. When an executive is found shot, Throckorton is the suspect. But, Meg and the townspeople are determined to keep their secrets and find out who the real killer is.

Or, you could win Marian Babson's No Cooperation from the Cat. This mystery features the aging actresses Trixie and Evangeline, along with Cho-Cho-San, a Japanese bobtail cat. Trixie and Evangeline become entangled in a mystery when they learn that Trixie's daughter, Martha, wasn't the first choice to write a cookbook. The woman originally working on it died after eating one of the recipes.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. And, it isn't easy to type No Cooperation from the Cat. So, I'll make it easy this week. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Hawk" or "Win The Cat." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end Thursday, Sept. 6 at 6 PM PT. Good luck!

River Bottom Blues by Ricky Bush

Most readers will find an unfamiliar world and vocabulary in Ricky Bush's mystery, River Bottom Blues. Stick with it. The world of blues music sucks you into this compelling story of a former reporter looking into the deaths of blues harmonica players.

Chicago in 1964 was part of the blues circuit, but the unsolved murders of blues harmonica musicians didn't arouse much attention. Their lives, with the traveling, the liquor, and the drugs, often led to violent death. But, when Mitty Andersen heard of the death of Bobby T in Houston in 2009, it was a different matter. Mitty had left the newspaper three years earlier. He had been an investigative reporter, but he covered the blues music scene for years, and he didn't accept that Bobby T had died of a heroin overdose. Mitty, like Bobby T, played blues harmonica. And, he knew Bobby T didn't shoot heroin.

It took Bobby Tarleton's widow and an ex-con to push Mitty into an investigation of his own. The Wizard, Michael Melton, was a guitarist who ended up in prison for killing a harmonica player, "a harp player", in Dallas. He claimed he didn't do it, and, after he was released, he showed up at Bobby T's funeral. When Mitty tracked him down, he heard a weird story about someone who had been killing harp players for years, someone who was killing "those who play the devil's music". And, determined to find Bobby T's killer, Mitty falls in with The Wizard's mad scheme to draw out the killer, with a traveling blues band and Mitty on harmonica.

Ricky Bush takes readers on a wild ride filled with music and legendary musicians in River Bottom Blues. If you just let go, you'll be swept up in the stories and the atmosphere. It's a story filled with violence, but it reflects the life of blues musicians. Former journalist Mitty Andersen is the perfect narrator for this glimpse into the blues circuit. River Bottom Blues is a crime novel, but, first, it's an atmospheric piece filled with a love of blues music.

(Note: I don't own any blues music, but DirecTV has a blues station on their music collection. Perfect background for reading River Bottom Blues.)

Ricky Bush's website is

River Bottom Blues by Ricky Bush.  Barking Rain Press. 2011. ISBN 9781935460282 (paperback), 176p.

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Artifact by Gigi Pandian

I'm going to commit heresy here. I was never a big fan of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody mysteries. I liked her Jacqueline Kirby books since Kirby was a librarian. But, I truly loved the Vicky Bliss mysteries. Vicky Bliss was an art historian who was an expert in lost museum treasures. Those mysteries were exciting capers, and had a touch of romance. It's the highest compliment I can pay to Gigi Pandian's debut mystery, Artifact, to say it reminds me of Peters' Vicky Bliss stories.

Jaya Jones is a historian and professor in California, living in a house owned by a Russian landlady, and playing her tabla drums at night with a magician as her partner. She has a casual, laid-back California life until she receives a package in the mail. Her former lover, Rupert, mailed it from Scotland. Since Jaya had just received a newspaper clipping about Rupert's death, she recognized the postmark as the day he died in a car accident. Why did he send her a ruby bracelet? His note said she was the only one he could trust.

Jaya's field of expertise is the history of the British East India Company, so she seeks out an expert to tell her about the piece of jewelry. That's how she ends up meeting Lane Peters, an Indian jewelry expert. That doesn't explain how she and Lane end up on a plane to Scotland, looking for the story behind the bracelet. When Jaya's apartment was broken into, and she and Lane were followed, she was convinced someone had murdered Rupert. Since he was working on an archaeological dig in Scotland, the answers must be there. She wants to find the person who killed Rupert. Lane wants to find a treasure. And, he warns her. "We're not the police. We're historians. We know how to find missing pieces of history. Not attempted murderers."

"We know how to find missing pieces of history." With that one sentence, Gigi Pandian opens a whole world of possibilities for her Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt series. This escapade takes her to Scotland, but there is an entire world of treasures awaiting her. Pandian's Jaya Jones is a unique character, a half-Indian, half-American historian with a quick mind, and  a deceptive tiny appearance. And, Jaya's friends are unusual and interesting. Artifact is fun, fast-paced, and offers a glimpse into two cultures, that of Scotland and India.

Elizabeth Peters' Vicky Bliss mysteries were fun romantic capers with unexpected twists. Gigi Pandian offers that same exotic world of treasure hunts, foreign lands, and a touch of romance. I miss Vicky Bliss. But, now we're all lucky to have Jaya Jones' treasure hunts. I hope Artifact is just the first of Gigi Pandian's skillfully written capers.

Gigi Pandian's website is

Artifact by Gigi Pandian. Gargoyle Girl Productions. 2012. ISBN 9781938213007 (paperback), 296p.

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Guest Blogger - Gigi Pandian

One of the best things about my blog is the opportunity I get now and again to introduce readers to a debut author. Today, I'd like you to meet Gigi Pandian, the debut mystery novelist who was awarded the Malice Domestic Grant for Artifact, the first book in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt series. Today is publication day for Artifact. Congratulations, Gigi, and thank you for taking the time to introduce your book.


Guest Blogger Gigi Pandian

Thanks so much for inviting me, Lesa. It’s especially exciting to be here today, the day my debut mystery novel Artifact is officially on sale! Since it’s book launch day, I thought I’d share how this book came to be.

I grew up traveling with my anthropologist parents and devouring mystery novels featuring adventurous academics, like the Vicky Bliss and Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. In junior high, I created a comic book about the adventures of Minnesota Smith, a female Indiana Jones.

As I grew up, I realized I didn’t want to be an academic myself, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t have fun writing about them. When I set out to write a mystery novel, I wanted it to be a traditional puzzle-plot like my favorite mysteries, and to have the same sense of adventure and similar strong female protagonist as my Minnesota Smith creation.

The idea behind the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series is that in each book, Indian-American history professor Jaya Jones solves a present-day mystery linked to a historical treasure. In Artifact, Jaya travels from San Francisco to the British Library in London to a Pictish archaeological dig in the Highlands of Scotland, piecing together the secrets of a lost Indian treasure that are hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj.

My dad is from India and my mom did a lot of her research in Scotland, so those were two countries with fascinating histories where I’d spent time. So when it came to creating a character who could connect those histories, I found myself with Jaya, a woman born in India to an Indian mother and American father -- a character bridging two cultures who would understand the connections of countries with overlapping histories. In an early draft of her character, I thought she might be a journalist rather than a historian. Both are truth-seeking professions, but as I developed ideas for stories, I knew she was a history professor.

For years, I filled notebooks with story ideas and miscellaneous research. It was a fun hobby, but I was never sure it would amount to more than that. Then I discovered National Novel Writing Month. Signing up for NaNoWriMo and agreeing to write a 50,000-word novel in the space of a month is what helped me finally finish a novel, not just talk about doing so.

I liked what I’d written, so I submitted it to the Malice Domestic Grants competition that awards grants to unpublished writers who are writing in the traditional mystery genre. I couldn’t quite believe it when I received the phone call telling me that I’d won. It was time to start taking the novel seriously! I used the grant to finance a research trip back to the UK, joined my local Sisters in Crime chapter, and got involved with a wonderful writers group. It took me another few years to learn to craft a good mystery, and it’s been a lot of fun every step of the way.

Gigi Pandian is a mystery writer, photographer, and graphic designer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant for her debut mystery novel, Artifact: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery, which was released August 28, 2012. To sign up for Gigi’s newsletter or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter, visit

Thank you, Gigi! And, good luck with Artifact and future books.

ARTIFACT: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery
by Gigi Pandian
ISBN: 978-1-938213-00-7
Trade Paperback
Gargoyle Girl Productions
296 pages

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

A year ago, I reviewed Louise Penny's A Trick of the Light, a masterpiece in which she explored the dichotomy of the soul using art, talking about the dark and the light. Penny isn't finished with her exploration of life and the soul. This time, in The Beautiful Mystery, she examines music as she takes readers into an isolated monastery in Québec for a story about balance and reflection, another story about evil and good, a story of the soul. Read this book very carefully. Pour over the words of this magnificent novel. Penny leaves hints throughout this book, a story that soars to the highest heights of passion, and takes the readers to the greatest pain, the pain of betrayal.

Time and again, I've refused to do more than a simple summary of Louise Penny's books. To fully appreciate The Beautiful Mystery, a reader has to have read the earlier books, the ones that lead up to the pain of this story. I can only summarize the basic plot, and hope that readers will care enough to start at the beginning, and follow the story of Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of homicide with the Sûreté de Québec. 

When Gamache and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir enter the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, they are the first nonreligous men to enter the monastery where two dozen cloistered, contemplative monks live. But, they were called to the monastery because one of those monks was murdered. Only twenty-four men were in there, and the abbot knew that one of the remaining twenty-three was a killer.

Gamache anticipated his visit, not as an investigator, but as a man who had listened to the glorious Gregorian chants on a simple recording by this small handful of monks. He finds their music so glorious that it speaks of God, chants that were so soothing and magnetic that they were called "the beautiful mystery", as the monks sang the word of God. At the same time, he felt disharmony, and could see that battle lines had been drawn between the monks that supported the abbot, and the monks that supported the dead monk. And, somewhere in that disharmony was the answer. Who could kill the person he lived with, sang with, ate with, and depended on in that remote monastery? Gamache is very much aware that the state of the monastery itself could reflect the state of a man's soul, "The public face, and then the crumbling, rotting one behind."

Once again, Penny works with a story within a story. Gamache is not just a homicide investigator. He himself is part of a larger force, the Sûreté de Québec. And, the past history of corruption and tragedy in the Sûreté has always been a crucial part of this series, as the wise, caring Gamache is contrasted with some of the other officers. And, as much as Gamache and the monks of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups may seek harmony and peace, the outside world has a way of interfering. Time and again, Gamache quotes T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. "Some malady is coming upon us."

Pay very close attention to Louise Penny's story, the symbolism, the allegories. While Penny writes of a murder investigation, she writes of life itself. And, one man, Frère Charles, the medical doctor, has a deep understanding of life and men. One conversation between Gamache and Frère Charles is particularly noteworthy. The doctor says, "There isn't a man in this monastery who didn't come through that door wounded. Damaged. Almost dead inside." It's a comment that means more than just the monks. And, he says, "People die in bits and pieces....They lose heart. They lose hope. They lose faith. They lose interest. And finally, they lose themselves."

There's so much more I could say about this outstanding novel. At one point the comment is made, "Most murders take years to happen. But finally something, or someone, tips the balance." Louise Penny's books are about dichotomy, about balance in life. And, her story lines carry from one book to the next, as the balance is found, and lost again. It sounds redundant to call The Beautiful Mystery beautiful. But, it's beautiful, and thought-provoking, and painful. It's filled with echoes, light and darkness, and, as always, good and evil. And, it's filled with parallel moments and terrible contrasts, as well as tragic memories. Penny allows one foreboding statement to hang over the entire book, Matthew 10:36. "And a man's foes shall be of his own household." Read this book carefully. Pay very close attention to The Beautiful Mystery.

The Beautiful Mystery is also available from Macmillan audio. Here's a link if you'd like to listen to a clip.

Visit Louise Penny on Facebook, at or at

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. Minotaur Books. 2012. ISBN 9780312655464 (hardcover), 373p.

Or from Macmillan audio.  9781427226099  (unabridged)

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

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Day of Rest

This is how we relax around my place, cats and books. I've needed some time lately to catch up, so one of my readers, Donna in Connecticut, suggested I take Sundays as catch-up days. Thanks, Donna, for the great suggestion!  I'll still have blog postings on Sundays, but I know there aren't quite as many people reading today. A lot of us take Sundays as a day for ourselves, days of rest. If I just ask you to tell me what you're reading, I don't have to have finished a book and hustle to get it reviewed.

I'm planning to spend my day reading. I'm finishing Louise Penny's The Beautiful Mystery. I'll still drop by once in a while today to check on comments. Enjoy your day of rest. But, if you happen to stop by, drop me a note. I'd love to know what you're reading today.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner

Scholastic, the publishers of The 39 Clues series for kids 8-12, launches a new series for that age group on August 28th. James Dashner's A Mutiny in Time is the first in the new Infinity Ring series. I have to admit I'm a sucker for books such as these. Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House books took readers back in time so her characters could save history, but they didn't go as far as this series does. History has been totally changed, broken, over the years, and it's up to three young people to fix those breaks.

Dak Smyth and Sera Froste are best friends. He's a nut about history, and Sera loves science. When Dak's parents return from a trip, they are shocked to discover Sera has completed one of their inventions, an Infinity Ring that will allow them to travel through time. Dak's parents are lost on the first trip back to the American Revolution. However, before Dak and Sera can try to rescue them, they themselves are snatched by a mysterious group of people who call themselves Hystorians. Their founder, Aristotle, was convinced that his student, Alexander, would become Alexander the Great. However, Alexander died young, and someone else came to power. He saw that as a break in history, a moment when something went wrong. The Hystorians have secretly been funding the Smyths' attempt to travel through time because they are convinced there have been Great Breaks in history. And, the government, SQ, has benefited from all the changes in history. The Breaks have damaged reality, causing people to experience Remnants, moments when they know something is missing. And, natural disasters are occurring more frequently.

The Hystorians convince Dak and Sera to work with them just before SQ invades the Hystorian headquarters. Dak and Sera, along with Riq, a young language expert, escape through time, only to find themselves on a quest to fix the Great Breaks. On each of their trips, they will be helped with a Hystorian who is waiting for them. However, they will also face representatives of SQ, determined to prevent them from fixing history. Their first destination? Spain, where Christopher Columbus is about to sail with the Amancio brothers, the two men who successfully led a mutiny against Columbus, and went on to discover America.

A Mutiny in Time is a terrific kick-off to the series. Adults will appreciate pieces younger readers won't necessarily catch, such as Benedict Arnold Middle School. Philadelphia is the capital of the United States, a country with 48 states. Kids will enjoy this series with young people as the heroes. As in The 39 Clues, the trio will face danger and separation. They will also learn about history in the process. A Mutiny in Time was a fast-paced exciting story, marking a successful debut. Readers of The 39 Clues will appreciate this series, along with readers who have moved past The Magic Tree House books, and still enjoy time travel stories.

As with The 39 Clues, Scholastic has created online games to accompany the Infinity Ring series. There will be message boards, book excerpts, behind-the-scenes information, and, of course the adventure of the game itself. It will be up to the young Hystorians who play the game to save history at

Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time, Book One by James Dashner. Scholastic Inc. 2012. ISBN 9780545386968 (hardcover), 192p.

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

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Trinity Game by Sean Chercover

Can I tell you that Sean Chercover's thriller, The Trinity Game, was even better than I expected?  Deception, love, politics, religion. It's all there. However, I read for character, and this book has wonderful characters beginning with the hero, Daniel Byrne and his con man uncle, Tim Trinity.

Daniel Byrne is a priest who works for the Vatican investigating claims of miracles. He's investigated claims for ten years and 721 cases, and hasn't seen one miracle. When Daniel's disbelief and failure to find miracles starts to interfere with plans in some corners of the church, he's sent to the United States, to Atlanta, to investigate claims that prophecies are coming true. Those prophecies have been uttered by Daniel's uncle as he spoke in tongues during his "Tim Trinity Prosperity-Power Miracle Hour". And, if there's anyone Daniel won't hesitate to debunk, it's his uncle, the man who raised him and turned out to be no more than a common grifter, preying on people for money.

Daniel doesn't find what he expects in Atlanta, He finds a scared man who doesn't understand why he's speaking in tongues, and doesn't know what he is predicting. However, the Catholic Church, evangelists, the FBI, and gamblers in Las Vegas all understand the dangers of his predictions. And, when Daniel realizes that he needs to act to save lives, whether or not he believes Trinity's latest prediction, he reaches out to a former girlfriend who is a journalist, and to his bosses at the Vatican. When Trinity's prediction of tragedy comes true,  there are forces that will stop at nothing to silence Tim Trinity. Daniel Byrne has to decide whose side he's on, the church that sheltered him for years, but refused to release the prophecies, or the man he fled from years earlier. No matter what, "Trinity's voices, whatever their origin, would not be allowed to change the world, when nobody who mattered really wanted the world changed."

Conspiracy theories, church mysteries, mob stories, assassins. This book has something for everyone who reads thrillers. And, even with all the fast-paced scenes, Chercover manages to add an additional layer, the complicated story of the relationship between two men in the role of father and son.  Daniel, Tim Trinity, the journalist Julie Rothman, and even the mercenary, Pat Wahlquist, are wonderful, fascinating characters. This is a complex, mysterious story that leaves room for the two planned sequels. As Hamlet says, "There are more things in heaven and earth...than are dreamt of in your philosophy." There's no reason to doubt that Sean Chercover's sequels to The Trinity Game won't be just as exciting and complicated. Chercover's readers will be waiting.

Sean Chercover's website is

The Trinity Game by Sean Chercover. Thomas & Mercer. 2012. ISBN 9781312183183 (paperback), 415p.

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

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Winners and a Favorites Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners in the Sean Chercover giveaway. Karen C. of Cleburne, TX will receive the autographed copy of The Trinity Game. The autographed Ray Dudgeon package will go to Brian B. from Brockton, MA . I'll put them in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm giving away ARCs by two favorite authors. Linda Fairstein's Night Watch takes her character, Alexandra Cooper into the world of restaurants as she encounters murder in France, and deals with a difficult crime victim in her job as Manhattan's sex crimes prosecutor. It's another terrific mystery from the knowledgeable Fairstein.

Or, someone could win a copy of P.J. Tracy's latest Monkeewrench novel, Off the Grid. How do you link an assassination attempt on a retired FBI agent, the death of a kidnapped teenager, and the savage murder of three men in a Minneapolis neighborhood? It's up to the Minneapolis Homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth, along with the Monkeewrench gang, a group of computer wizards, to find the common link. And, finding that link could lead them a dangerous encounter on a remote northern Minnesota Indian reservation.

Would you like to win Linda Fairstein's Night Watch or P.J. Tracy's Off the Grid?  You can enter to win both, but I'll need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Night Watch" or "Win Off the Grid." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

This contest will close at 6 PM PT on Thursday, Aug. 30th. Good luck!

The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo

I have a fondness for debut novels. There's something about a feeling of discovery. A debut novel has so many possibilities. There are no preconceived notions as to what the author will tell us or how the story will unfold. Courtney Miller Santo's debut, The Roots of the Olive Tree, slowly reveals the lives of five generations of women in the Keller family, a group of women living together in a house near an olive grove in Kidron, California. No one keeps secrets from each other as women do, nor supports each other in unexpected ways. No one fights and loves as women do who are related. And, put them together in one house, and all those possibilities for secrets, and destruction, and love are magnified.

Anna Keller is 112 at the beginning of the book, and she wants to be the oldest person in the world. She lives in Hill House in the Sacramento Valley with her daughter, Bets, who is 90, and her granddaughter, Callie, who runs the family store, The Pit. Callie's daughter, Deb, is in prison for killing her husband. It's Deb's daughter, Erin, and Callie who turn the Keller world upside down that year. Erin shows up with a plan to get her mother paroled. And, Callie reaches out to a scientist who is interested in investigating this family of firstborn women, checking their genes to discover the secrets to their longevity.

The olive trees in the Keller family were grafted from trees that Anna's father brought from Australia. And, those grafted trees were important to the growth and success of the community in Kidron. And, it was similar secrets and roots that led to the longevity of the Keller women. The Roots of the Olive Tree is not just a story of women who remain healthy late in life. It's a story of family secrets, and who can keep a secret, and what secrets are important.

Most of all, The Roots of the Olive Tree is a story that shows that all women, no matter how closely related, are individuals with individual dreams and lives. Santo allows each woman to have a section of the book to tell her story, to tell of her life and fears and passions. Some of the stories are richer than others, but they combine to form a strong family history as revealed in the final chapter, an eloquent fable told by the oldest child in the sixth generation.

The women in this book are all fascinating. My personal favorite is Anna, the matriarch who presides over the family and witnesses the changes that occur in that momentous year. But, every reader may find a woman to appreciate.  The idea for Courtney Miller Santo's novel came from her own family, five living generations of females in the matriarchal line. I'll admit, it might have been a richer story if there had been more development of one woman or another. I wanted more personality from some of the women. Some characters were deeper, and more intricately created than others. But, it's not easy to bring five women to life in a book, and allow each of them to have a say.

Courtney Miller Santo's debut, The Roots of the Olive Tree, is an engrossing story that reveals how past lives influence future generations, not just genetically. Genes are just the device used to tie the story together. It's a strong, promising debut, a novel that offers hope for future living characters and future stories.

Courtney Miller Santo's website is

The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo. William Morrow. 2012. ISBN 9780062130518 (hardcover), 308p.

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Printers & Books

If this is all I wanted to use my new printer for, I'd have a blog post for you today. But, I have a wonderful friend who is a genius, unafraid to tackle anything computer-related. I bought a new printer on Friday, expecting to use it with my notebook and a USB cord. Instead, I had to do a work-around, using the older MAC in the house. My friend came over last night, and not only figured out how to use the printer with my notebook, she installed it so I can use it with the wireless. YAY!

So, I spent last night with her working on that, and then visiting. I didn't finish the book I'm reading. I'll tell you what I'm reading right now, and you tell me what you're reading. Actually, I'm reading a few books. Tonight, I'll finish Courtney Miller Santo's The Roots of the Olive Tree, a novel of five generations of women in the Sacramento Valley who live together in the same house in an olive grove. I'm reading Cleo Coyle's new Coffeehouse mystery, A Brew to a Kill, but I'll be reviewing that at I'll be finishing Sean Chercover's thriller, The Trinity Game, within the next few days. I have a few others I just started, but I do have a method to my reading madness, and those three are the ones I'll be finished with soon.

So, what are you reading? We'd all love to know!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Inn at Rose Harbor by Debbie Macomber

When I tear up over a book, it usually isn't in the first twelve pages. Well, darn. We all know I'm mushy. But, Debbie Macomber's The Inn at Rose Harbor managed to make me tear up a couple times. Macomber launches what appears to be a new series set in Cedar Cove, one that features people in need of healing, as many of her books do.

Jo Marie Rose bought a bed-and-breakfast in Cedar Cove, Washington, when she herself needed healing. Her husband, Paul, was an Airborne Ranger killed when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. Once she moved into the cozy inn, she felt as if Paul had guided her there. She felt a sense of peace that she hadn't felt in the six months after his death. She named the inn after her husband, Rose Harbor Inn, and prepared to welcome her first guests.

Both of Jo Marie's guests returned reluctantly to Cedar Cove. Josh Weaver responded to a call that his stepfather, Richard, was dying. Josh had only been back to town once since his graduation. After Josh's mother died, Richard kicked Josh out of the house even before his high school graduation. Resentful and still angry, Josh only came to town to retrieve a few possessions that belonged to his mother. He and his stepfather had nothing good to say to each other.

For ten years, Abby Kincaid had avoided returning to her hometown. She couldn't refuse to come back this time, though, because she was there for her brother's wedding. As much as she loved him, Abby was afraid she wasn't going to be good company to the rest of the wedding guests. For fifteen years, she had lived with the guilty knowledge that she caused the death of her best friend. She couldn't forgive herself, so why would anyone in Cedar Cove forgive her or want to see her?

Macomber allows each of these three injured people to tell their stories, stories of loss and healing. It's the theme that will continue in this series. It's easy to see where each storyline is going, and it's easy to see the roles people such as Mark Taylor, the mysterious handyman, will play in future books. Although familiar characters from previous Cedar Cove books show up, this series belongs to Jo Marie Rose and her inn. The Inn at Rose Harbor is a comforting book, one that will welcome readers just as Jo Marie and her inn welcome guests.

Debbie Macomber's website is

The Inn at Rose Harbor by Debbie Macomber. Ballantine Books. 2012. ISBN 9780345528926 (hardcover), 340p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, August 20, 2012

September Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

It's time for the monthly book chat featuring mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian. This month, I had to recruit reluctant cats.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ties that Bind by Natalie R. Collins

Natalie R. Collins' thriller, Ties that Bind, is a riveting story of the evil that can dwell unseen in a community, and the evil that can destroy families. It's a compelling story of a woman forced to look at her own family history for answers to a contemporary mystery. And, the truth isn't what she expected.

When Jeremiah Malone died, it shocked everyone in Kanesville, Utah that the stake president's son would commit suicide. Police Detective Samantha Montgomery saw it differently. She saw it as the third troubling "suicide" of three teens in town, deaths she couldn't accept as suicides. But, those deaths brought back terrible memories of the death that destroyed Sam's family, the hanging death of her older sister, Callie, when Sam was only six. Her mother never recovered from the death, one older sister left town and one married a fellow Mormon the minute she could. Callie's death left the young Sam isolated and alone.

Sam Montgomery is the first woman detective in the history of Kanesville, a town controlled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormons. Although Sam's father was prominent in the local church before his wife's illness, Sam left the church, and left town. She worked in Salt Lake City on an undercover assignment as a rookie officer until a case involving polygamists went horribly wrong.  Her story is that she returned home to work and help her parents. But, Sam has demons to lay to rest. 

Assigned to the investigation of the teen deaths, Sam is angered and shocked to find Detective Gage Flint from the Salt Lake City Police Department is backing her up on the case. Gage was part of the Salt Lake City case that ended badly, and Sam still blames him for pulling her from that case. However, one reason she is still angry is her attraction to Flint. It's an attraction she fights as she tries to win control of the case, one she is convinced is a murder investigation, not a case about teen suicides.

Collin's Ties that Bind takes Sam Montgomery into a world that reveals more than she suspected about her own family. The death of Sam's sister, Callie, destroyed their family. Now, years later, as other teens die, Sam fears there could be a connection to the past.

Collins takes readers into the heart of evil and obsession in this powerful drama. Pick up Natalie R. Collins' Ties that Bind when you have time for an absorbing, intense story. This isn't a book you'll want to put down before you finish.

Natalie R. Collins' website is

Ties that Bind by Natalie R. Collins. St. Martin's Press. 2012. ISBN 9780312941994 (paperback), 343p.

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

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Arizona State University by Stephanie R. DeLuse, PhD, & Denise E. Bates, PhD

As college students return back to classes, it's the perfect time to take a look at one of the books in The Campus History Series. Stephanie R. DeLuse and Denise E. Bates joined forces for Arizona State University. The photographic narrative is intended to make the history of ASU more accessible. It contains 229 photographs and captions. It's a fascinating glimpse into the building of an institution. The authors used the book to illustrate how the university's future has been shaped by its past.

The book tells of people whose names are still prominent in Arizona history. Charles Trumbull Hayden's ferry crossing business helped build the city that became Tempe. Two residents, John Samuel Armstrong and his wife, Sarah, saw the town as the perfect place for a teacher-training school. In 1886, the first students were admitted to the Arizona Territorial Normal School, the school that eventually became Arizona State University in 1958, following a vote as to whether or not the college would become a university.

(One of my favorite facts in the book is related to the normal school. At one time, students as young as sixteen were admitted to the school. They were called "subnormals".)

It's not only alumni of Arizona State University who will find this book interesting. The history includes the long-standing rivalry with the University of Arizona. And, anyone who lives in the Valley will appreciate the book. It encompasses not only the university story, but also includes important elements in Valley history. And, anyone will recognize names such as Frank Lloyd Wright, whose last public design was Gammage Auditorium. Sterling Ridge, Glendale's former mayor, along with his wife, Barbara, were major forces in the successful campaign to build ASU West in the West Valley.

Arizona State University's story is told up to 1980, although there are some comments about the current school. The pictures are fascinating, showing the progress through the years of the school and the various programs. Arizona State University has an outstanding reputation in the arts, the sciences, journalism, sports. This book covers so many programs and aspects of the school.

Arizona State University deserves a place in all public libraries in the state. It's a fascinating glimpse at the history of a vital institution, crucial to the development of Arizona. Alumni and supporters as well as Valley residents interested in local history will appreciate this addition to The Campus History Series.

Arizona State Univeristy by Stephanie R. DeLuse, PhD, and Denise E. Bates, PhD. $21.99. Arcadia Publishing. Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at or (888) 313-2665.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy of the book from the publisher, who hoped I would review it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cupcake Cozies at the Poisoned Pen

Jenn McKinlay, moderator
Don't blame me for Cupcake Cozies at the Poisoned Pen. That's what they titled the event. And, the authors brought cupcakes, breads, and even cupcake wine. And, then Jenn McKinlay told me to blame Kate Carlisle for Jenn's pictures because Kate brought the wine. It would have been a fun evening even without food. Jenn moderated while Kate and Annette Mahon fielded her questions. The store was packed to hear the three authors. It was an event that even brought out other authors. I sat with Darrell James, author of the award-winning Nazareth Child, and talked to Donis Casey afterward. Donis will be appearing at Velma Teague in October, promoting her new book, The Wrong Hill to Die On.

McKinlay asked each author to talk about their latest book. Annette Mahon kicked it off by saying her latest book in her quilters' mystery series is St. Rose Goes Hawaiian. That was her working title because she was a teenager when the movie Gidget Goes Hawaiian came out. She takes her St. Rose Quilting ladies to Hawaii. The book includes some family recipes from Mahon's family, and it's one of Annette's own original quilt designs on the cover. She wanted to point out that black isn't traditional, though, in Hawaiian quilts.

Mahon's mysteries are set in a church in Scottsdale, Arizona. The basic group is made up of five retired women. She had to make her characters older because younger women don't have time to meet and quilt every morning. All five of the women are mystery fans, and they have solved a few mysteries.

This book is set in Mahon's hometown of Hilo, Hawaii. Annette has pictures on her Pinterest site that relate to St. Rose Goes Hawaiian.  The women are attending a quilt show there, and they stay at a bed-and-breakfast. Unfortunately, their hostess' husband is murdered while they are all attending a luau.

After Mahon had shown off the two beautiful quilts that related to her book, Kate Carlisle said she had made a book, and she showed that. Peril in Paperback is her latest Bibliophile mystery. Brooklyn Wainwright is a bookbinder and an expert in book restoration. She lives in San Francisco, but was raised by hippi parents in a commune in Sonoma, property that they have since used for growing grapes for wine. Carlisle said she set the books in areas she wanted to go to, and added wineries and books.

Peril in Paperback is Carlisle's homage to Agatha Christie, the Christie mysteries that were set in English house parties, and had strange people in them. That seemed like fun. Brooklyn goes to Lake Tahoe, to a hosue owned by her neighbor Susie's aunt. Brooklyn is thirty-two, and expected a grey-haired old woman. That was because Grace was supposed to be seventy when Kate first wrote the book. But, she wanted her to have made her money in video games, and realized that wouldn't work. So, she made Grace fifty instead. (Thanks for mentioning it, Kate. Sounds as if that paragraph just didn't get removed. I'll accept that - smile.) Nasty people die in the book, and Brooklyn works out some things with her boyfriend, who was getting too complacent.

Jenn McKinlay said she had to follow people who made quilts and books. She made cupcakes! Jenn was funny. She's written a couple books since Red Velvet Revenge, and had to be reminded which book that was. Kate told her it was the rodeo one. She said she takes Mel and Angie out of town during July. She even mentions the Poisoned Pen Bookstore's "Firecracker Sale" in the book. There's a murder at the Juniper Pass Rodeo, and Angie and Mel have to solve it. Juniper Pass is a combination of two places Jenn likes, Prescott and Greer. By making it up, though, she didn't have to do research. She did research rodeos. McKinlay said she enjoyed having the cupcake van in the book. There are cupcake vans all over the country. And, the book includes cake pops, which is why Jenn brought cake pops to the event.

When McKinlay asked the others about upcoming books, Mahon said she has nothing else scheduled, but she's working on another St. Rose book. There have been a couple exploding flashlights in the Valley, and Mahon kind of likes that idea for inclusion in a mystery. She also writes romances, but her romance publisher, Avalon, was sold to Amazon. She's waiting and watching to see what happens there.

Kate Carlisle
Kate Carlisle also writes romances. She writes for Harlequin. Her next one, called Surrender in Paradise, is the second book to feature one of twin brothers who own an island in the Caribbean. This brother falls for the executive VP on their island. She wants to have a baby, and is thinking of the in vitro route. He thinks she should do it the old-fashioned way.

Carlisle's next book in the Bibliophile mystery series will be A Cookbook Conspiracy. It features Brooklyn's sister, Savannah, who is a chef. When she attended Le Cordon Bleu, a boyfriend gave her an old cookbook from the Revolutionary War, a cookbook that could contain codes and secrets. So, this mystery includes recipes. And, Brooklyn, who can't cook, is trying those old recipes on her boyfriend, who really doesn't want her to try making British food.

The fourth book in Jenn McKinlay's Library Lover's series, Book, Line and Sinker., is due out in December. This one deals with Captain Kidd's treasure, which is rumored to have been buried in the Thumb Islands. There are booby traps in this one.

Jenn McKinlay
The Good Buy Girls mysteries are written under Jenn's pseudonym, Josie Belle. A Deal to Die For is due out in January. McKinlay writes so many books, all she could remember is that Maggie buys a thrift shop, and someone dies. The next Cupcake Bakery mystery, Going, Going, Ganache will be out in April.

And, McKinlay is starting a new series, the London Hat Shop series. Cloche and Dagger will be out in August. The series was inspired by the Royal wedding. Millinery shops are huge in London. Jenn's character is an American girl whose life goes viral in London. Her cousin insists that she has to come to London to work in the family business, but she knows nothing about it. McKinlay said she's received a lot of support in the mystery community for this book set in Notting Hill. Rhys Bowen, Deborah Crombie, and Hannah Dennison all helped her.

Asked about the books she wrote under the name Lucy Lawrence, Jenn replied that "Lucy Lawrence is dead." Jenn said she started writing romance, and romance is hard. She published three books with Harlequin, and then she was booted. Deservedly so, because she wasn't very good. She couldn't kill people off in her romances. Annette said try writing 250 pages in a romance, with no sex.

The authors were asked how they function as writers? What is their schedule? How do they get it done?

Annette Mahon
Annette Mahon answered that she mostly procrastinates, then writes well under a deadline. Fortunately, she got an extension on her last book. Her mother died, and then she herself got sick. She was glad she got an extension. The book wasn't in the best shape. She writes for publishers who buy after the book is written. That doesn't work well for her because she is a procrastinator. She writes three to four hours in the morning. Mahon said she finds mysteries harder to write than romances. She doesn't do outlines. She's a seat of the pants writer. She loses interest if she outlines.

Kate Carlisle said she has a process, and she writes to deadline. In fact, she has a deadline in two weeks for her romance. She just turned in a mystery. That deadline was August 1 . She always works with an outline. She knows the turning points. But, relationships grow and change. She has to fill in the synopsis. Kate works all day. She stops about 6 PM. She writes five days a week, part-time on weekends. Everything else, blogging, answering email, is NOT writing.

Jenn McKinlay works part-time at the library. Her boys are ten and eleven. She admits she lives in a frat house. She has a schedule. First, she boots everyone out of the house, or, really, drives the kids to school. Then, she comes home and plays with the dogs, or they'll drive her nuts while she writes. Then, she writes. She also procrastinates. McKinlay writes in crazy spurts, and then everyone leaves her alone. Suddenly, she'll remember she has to pick up the kids. Jenn said her books are a complete rip-off of everyone she meets, so warned the audience to be afraid. She outlines, and sticks to it. She tries to get ten pages done a day.

Why write under different names? McKinlay said her first mystery was written as a writer-for-hire. She had been submitting ideas, and she thinks she finally wore the publisher down. Her agent told her they were looking for a decoupage series. Jenn said, "I can do it." They bought it, and they own the writer's name. The Cupcake Bakery series was McKinlay's idea, so she owns it. The library series, and the hat shop series were hers, so they're all under Jenn McKinlay. They own the bargain series, so that's under Josie Belle. Finally, Jenn admitted she had taken on too much. Kate's response was "Finally!" McKinlay thinks Kate Carlisle and Avery Aames had a bet as to when Jenn would say "enough".

The cupcake series is going to go to eight books. The library series is scheduled for six. She hasn't heard on the bargain hunters series. Lots of authors start as writers-for-hire.

The authors all told the audience that the mystery community is a tight-knit one. McKinlay said they'll always send the elevator down. Deborah Crombie agreed to read her book. Authors work up the ladder together, but they remember where they came from.

Mahon said Carolyn Hart and Earlene Fowler blurbed her first book. Fowler has the Benni Harper mysteries with quilts on the cover, and Mahon's characters are quilters. She said mystery writers are supportive. But, romance writers want to unseat you. In discussing conferences, they all said romance conferences are mostly business conferences, other than RT, which is a party. So, those conferences are usually just writers. But, mystery conferences are made up of writers and fans, readers. There's more sharing in the mystery field. Mystery authors are generous with information about agents, publishers, and the field.

McKinlay said she has tight deadlines. She submits a ten-page outline. Then her editor sits on it. Her books are due within six months. Basically, she has a book due every three months, then revisions, copy edits, and galleys. She had three days for revisions the last time.

Carlislie tries to do twenty pages a day. She has a critique partner, and she tries to send her a chapter a day if she can. Her chapters run about twenty pages. Annette writes 5,000-10,000 words a day.

Kate and Jenn both said they had series arcs, but when the series is extended it causes problems. Kate had an arc for six books, and she's now on the seventh. It's tough on the relationships in the books when you've planned for a shorter series. McKinlay agreed, saying when the series becomes longer you have to mess with the relationships. She likes growth in her characters.

The last question came from a woman who asked if they ever wrote a character that they intended to have die and the readers latched onto him. Jenn McKinlay admitted she intended to kill off Marty. He's in his eighties. But, readers loved him. And, then Oz appeared. She has characters come and stay at the bakery and never leave.

And, that's exactly how the audience felt at the Poisoned Pen the other night. Jenn McKinlay, Kate Carlisle and Annette Mahon made the evening so much fun that no one wanted to leave.

Kate Carlisle's website is

Annette Mahon's website is

Jenn McKinlay's website is

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Winners & Giveaway of autographed Sean Chercover books

Congratulations to the winners of the Dog Days of Summer books. Cynthia Robinson's The Barbary Dogs will go to Sue F. from Crosslake, MN. And, Barbara W. from Auburn, WA won David Rosenfelt's Leader of the Pack. I'll put the books in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I have autographed copies of Sean Chercover's books to give away, beginning with an ARC of his new bestseller. The Trinity Game is a fast-paced thriller featuring a priest, David Byrne, who debunks miracles, and expects to prove his uncle Tim Trintiy is a con man. But, what if Tim Trinity really is speaking in tongues, revealing the future? Now, he has to try to save his uncle's life.

Or, you could win both books in Sean Chercover's Ray Dudgeon series. Big City, Bad Blood introduced Ray Dudgeon, disillusioned newspaper reporter-turned-private detective.This debut novel went on to win the Shamus Award for Best First Novel, and receive numerous award nominations.Chercover followed up with another successful book, Trigger City, in which Ray thinks he's working on a routine investigation of an open-and-shut case until the case spins out of control, and he learns the victim wasn't the unassuming woman she appeared to be, but an operator in the world of covert intelligence who died for the truth. Both books are gritty detective novels, and autographed.

So, which would you like to win, The Trinity Game or the Ray Dudgeon package? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win The Trinity Game" or "Win Ray Dudgeon." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end Thursday, Aug. 23 at 6 PM PT. Good luck!

Talk Among Ourselves

Full day yesterday. I did a brown bag luncheon presentation of fifteen books for the library staff, followed by a Readers' Advisory meeting. One hour on the reference desk, and a trip to Scottsdale to the Poisoned Pen. Tomorrow, I'll have a recap of the program featuring Kate Carlisle, Annette Mahon and Jenn McKinlay.

I did finish a book, but who had time to blog it? It's 10:15 as I write this, and I'm heading to bed.

So, let's talk. What was the last book you brought into the house, and where did it come from? The library? A bookstore? A grocery store? Or did you download it on an electronic device of some sort?

I brought home Debbie Macomber's new book, The Inn at Rose Harbor, from the library.

Recap tomorrow, and don't forget about the book giveaway. I'm kicking off a Sean Chercover giveaway tonight.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Trucker Ghost Stories edited by Annie Wilder

Anyone who grew up with those urban legends of ghosts in the road, or ghostly truck drivers saving other drivers will love Trucker Ghost Stories, edited by Annie Wilder. It's actually subtitled, "And Other True Tales of Haunted Highways, Weird Encounters, and Legends of the Road." It's a terrific collection of stories told by truckers, or about ghostly encounters on the road.

Wilder breaks the collection into four parts: Just Plain Weird, Messages and Assistance from the Spirit World, Haunted Highways: Legends and Lore of the Road, and Time Slips. That first part deals with everything from UFO encounters to skinwalkers in Arizona. My favorite section is part two, Messages and Assistance from the Spirit World. That section relates stories of truckers and other drivers saved by everything from ghostly lights to ghosts of other truckers. Two of those stories were particularly moving. "My Guardian Angel is a Truck Driver" is an unusual story of a Hillsborough County, Florida deputy sheriff who encounters the same truck driver twice in her life. And, Gary M. Vaughn's story, "Babe", actually made me tear up, the story of a truck that passed from one trucker to another, with interesting results.

The stories vary in length and quality. Wilder is shrewd enough to include a foreword by trucker and writer Terry L. Aldershof. He began and ended the book on a high note. Trucker Ghost Stories brings a slightly different viewpoint to ghost stories, an interesting take on the subject. There are enough fascinating stories to make this anthology a worthwhile addition to any ghost story collection.

Annie Wilder's website is

Trucker Ghost Stories ed. by Annie Wilder. Tor. 2012. ISBN 9780765330352 (paperback), 254p.

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Kingmaker's Daugher by Philippa Gregory

Historian Philippa Gregory's latest subject for one of her outstanding historical novels is a little-known figure in British history. How many readers know anything of Anne Neville, wife of Richard III? Anne Neville achieved something her father dreamed of for one of his daughters, a throne. But, she took her life into her own hands, and married for love. The Kingmaker's Daughter is her story, told in her voice. It's a fascinating, moving novel with unforgettable scenes.

Anne Neville was the youngest of two daughters of Richard Warwick, Earl of Warwick, known as "The Kingmaker". He was a powerful figure in the fifteenth century, but he finally reached for more than he could achieve. He plotted to put one of his daughters, Isabel or Anne, on the throne of England, and he lost his life fighting against the Yorks, the family he put on the throne.

Even at the age of eight, when the story begins, Anne is her father's pawn. Her powerful parents manipulate allies, changing alliances after Edward IV marries into the power-hungry Woodville family. When he marries Isabel to Edward's younger brother, he plots for her to become queen. And, the sisters know they are little more than political pawns. Isabel is the first to understand the danger in politics. "When I wanted to be a queen I thought it was a story, like the legends, I thought it was all about beautiful dresses and handsome knights. Now I see that it is pitiless. It is a game of chess and Father has me as one of his pieces. Now he uses me on the board, next I may fall to one side and he won't even think of me, as he brings another piece into play."

In earlier novels, Gregory introduced fortune's wheel. "You can go very high and you can sink very low, but you can rarely turn the wheel at your own bidding." Anne and her sister, Isabel, experienced that wheel. Anne was forced to marry the man named the Prince of Wales, only to become a widow when her father was defeated in battle, along with her husband of only a year. Imprisoned by her sister, after her sister's rise to power, Anne took matters into her own hands. She married for love, Richard III, in order to reclaim her own inheritance. She thought she would be no one's pawn again, but realized there are never guarantees in politics. Women can be manipulated, married to bear heirs, and divorced under false pretenses. Fortune's wheel is always in play.

Once again, Philippa Gregory brings to life a woman from a time when little is known of the roles of women. Queen Anne, Anne Neville, was a fascinating woman, a woman who even as a young girl was forced to move in political circles. Gregory excels at bringing England's royal women to life. The Kingmaker's Daughter is another jewel in Philippa Gregory's crown.

Philippa Gregory's website is

The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory. Touchstone. 2012. ISBN 9781451626070 (hardcover), 417p.

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

Peril in Paperback by Kate Carlisle

If you're a fan of the traditional English house-party mysteries, you'll want to read Kate Carlisle's homage to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. Brooklyn Wainwright, Carlisle's book restoration expert, is the perfect character to take us to a week-long birthday celebration in the home of an eccentric game designer.

Brooklyn's neighbor, Susie Stein has an aunt, Grace Crawford, who is a self-made billionaire who made her fortune in the computer game industry. Her fiftieth birthday celebration means she can invite her family and friends to celebrate in her unusual mansion in Lake Tahoe. Brooklyn is invited, not only as Susie's friend, but so she can do some bookbinding and oversee the librarian archivist who is cataloging Grace's collection of rare books.

From the moment they arrive, Brooklyn realizes some of the guests are just nasty, Grace's lawyer, her sister-in-law, the woman who is married to Grace's business partner.And, when Grace announces she has written a novel based on her own life, some of the guests don't seem happy. The death of a guest, and Brooklyn's suspicion that Grace could have been the target, lead her into an investigation with her mysterious friend Gabriel.

Brooklyn Wainwright is an amateur sleuth who continues to discover dead bodies. Her investigations are motivated by her determination to find justice. She admits she has an "Alarming tendency to find dead people, followed by an ineffable need to see that justice prevailed on their behalf." And, in this case, she's already suspicious and angry, so an investigation fits her mood.

Peril in Paperback is such a fun story with so many tributes to the classic English country house mystery. There's the eccentric wealthy person who invites people to their house where everyone becomes stuck in the house after a murder. In this case, the house itself is fun and unusual. The rich person has secrets to be revealed, and someone wants to stop them. It's a wonderful tribute with a climax in which all the suspects are gathered together. The murderer is revealed, and other secrets are uncovered. There's mystery, romance, and surprises. Kate Carlisle's Peril in Paperback is a wonderful tribute to the past.

I do have one quibble. Since when is fifty considered old? I'm going to take that up with Kate on Wednesday. Granted, Brooklyn admits she had the wrong idea of what Grace Crawford would be like. But, what a wrong idea! "Grace Crawford was nothing like what I'd expected. I had imagined a genteel, gray-haired granny type who knitted quietly, surrounded by her twelve cats. For excitement, she might play a mean game of canasta." Really, Kate? Where did you ever get that idea of a fifty-year-old?

Fortunately, Brooklyn Wainwright usually isn't that mistaken. She's a terrific amateur sleuth, a booklover who also enjoys her food and her men. And, Peril In Paperback takes her into the perfect world for all of us who enjoy classic mysteries. Kate Carlisle's latest is a fun sincere tribute to one of the all-time best, Agatha Christie.

Kate Carlisle's website is

Peril in Paperback by Kate Carlisle. Obsidian. 2012. ISBN 9780451237620 (paperback), 277p.

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

Sunday, August 12, 2012

So West: Desert Justice

So West: Desert Justice is the fourth Desert Sleuths Sisters in Crime Anthology. This time, twenty authors contributed short stories set in the Southwest. It's the strongest entry in the series yet, as the Arizona authors ensure that justice is served. And, their ideas of justice can be very wicked.

These authors prove how deadly Arizona can be. In a collection that takes readers from Kartchner Caverns to the Grand Canyon, from Sedona to Scottsdale, the stories bring the Southwest to life. It's an anthology filled with walls of dust called Haboobs, deadly cactus and snakes. The heat, the desert and the Arizona mountains are enough to kill anyone. Then, the authors add the deadliest varmints of all, human beings.

Sometimes, the tables are turned on a villain. What happens when a husband takes his wife to the Grand Canyon with murder on his mind? How about a victim who finds a way to provide a killer with "Good News Bad News"?  There are police procedurals in the collection. And, there are amateur sleuths who provide clues to the police, while some take matters into their own hands. A few of the characters who mete out justice have secrets of their own to hide.

Whether a reader is looking for a historical mystery with an appearance by Frank Lloyd Wright, a bookstore setting, or mysteries featuring the cruel Arizona weather, So West: Desert Justice offers a myriad of settings and atmospheric stories. Readers will discover a talented group of authors with vastly different definitions of "Desert Justice". Crime might not pay, but readers will certainly be rewarded for reading these stories. These Arizona authors provide readers with fascinating cautionary tales. In Arizona and the Southwest, in So West: Desert Justice, justice can be very, very wicked.

Congratulations to all the authors whose stories were selected for the fourth Desert Sleuths Sisters in Crime Anthology. They are: Shannon Baker, Susan Budavari, Laurie Fagen, Suzanne Flaig, Arthur Kerns, Deborah J. Ledford, Elizabeth R. Marshall, Merle McCann, Margaret Morse, Kris Neri, Nancy Hart Newcomer, Toni Niesen, Virginia Nosky, R.K. Olson, Cathy Ann Rogers, Martin Roselious, Amy Schuster, Judy Starbuck, Judith Starkston, Kate Joy Steele.

So West: Desert Justice. Desert Sleuths Sisters in Crime. DS Publishing. 2012. ISBN 9780982877425 (paperback), 212p.

Desert Sleuths' website is

FTC Full Disclosure - I was given a copy of the book by the Sisters in Crime chapter in order to review it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Brown Bag Luncheon Books

My favorite time of the quarter! Brown bag luncheons. I have two this month. This week, I hosted the one for library patrons. We had a full house. I don't think I could pack one more person in my office. Next week, I host the one for library staff. The list might be slightly different because the library patrons checked everything out. Fantastic! That's what it's all about, letting them know about books they might have missed.

Here's what I shared this week with our patrons.

Pies and Prejudice by Ellery Adams – In a mystery reminiscent of Sarah Addison Allen’s books, Ella Mae LeFaye’s pies have magical effects on people.

Home is a Roof Over a Pig by Aminta Arrington – An American family’s journey to live in China, a family that has 3 young children.

Whiplash River by Lou Berney  – Shake Bouchon left his life of crime behind to open a restaurant in Belize, but crime won’t let Shake alone.

Never Tell by Alafair Burke - NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher thought Julia Whitmire committed suicide, but suspects a group of teens know more than they’re telling.

Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cook - Deirdre Griffin does everything for her superstar brother and her family, until she quits to take part in Dancing with the Stars.

Paris in Love by Eloisa James -  In 2009, the bestselling author sold her house, took a sabbatical, and moved her family to Paris.

Truth Be Told by Larry King -  Off the record about favorite guests, memorable moments, funniest jokes, and a half century of asking questions.

Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews -  Let’s imagine that Jack Kennedy spent 1939 traveling Europe as a spy for FDR.

Tumbleweeds by Leila Meacham -  Three young friends form a bond they expect to last a lifetime, but an event in their Texas town changes their lives forever.

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer -  What would happen if a character in a book wanted to escape, and his reader wanted to help him?

Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray – What happens when a small group of women with something in common discover they’re invisible to the people around them?

Criminal by Karin Slaughter – In 1974, young women in Atlanta were taken from the streets and brutally murdered. Now, in present-day, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation investigates because the crimes are occurring again.

Dark Magic by James Swain – A group of magicians try to defend New York City against a mysterious attack.

As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeney – Sweeney shares the love letters her pilot father sent her mother at the end of WWII.

Mama Makes Up Her Mind by Bailey White – Essays about White’s life in Georgia and Florida with her eccentric family.

And, a great time was had by all. (Or, at least that's what they told me.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sean Chercover for Authors @ The Teague

We were fortunate to have Sean Chercover appear for Authors @ The Teague on his book tour for The Trinity Game, his new thriller. I introduced him as one of those people with dual citizenship who now lives in Toronto. I also told the audience Sean had been a private investigator, so he knows the background to his books.

Chercover said he grew up in Atlanta and other sections of Georgia. He was a private investigator in Chicago and New Orleans. His experiences as a P.I. helped him write his two Ray Dudgeon mysteries set in Chicago, Big City, Bad Blood, and Trigger City.

Chercover's new book, The Trinity Game, is the start of a new trilogy. He said authors don't always know where their inspiration comes from for a book, but he knows exactly where this story came from. It was inspired by drugs. Sean had been put on a prescription drug for a shoulder injury.

One night, before Chercover had his surgery, he rolled over on his shoulder. He took some pain killers, and then was lying in the bathtub. He thought the tiles on the ceiling looked like designs. One looked like a frog playing a saxophone, and one looked liked James Joyce. He called his wife, told her, and she told him she was going back to bed, and don't drown. That's when he realized the medication had hit him.

He would distract himself from the pain, and would watch TV evangelists. Some of them were sincere, but others were con men. Chercover loved the theater of it. Those con men would say God will work a miracle in your life if you send $1000. He saw it over and over again. 

Tim Trinity in The Trinity Game came to Sean fully formed. That doesn't usually happen. Chercover knew he was a con man, a non-believer. He worked the tent revival circuit between New Orleans and Atlanta. Then, he started speaking in tongues. He didn't even know it, but when his words were decoded, it turned out his predictions were coming true. The Vatican sent someone to debunk him. Daniel Byrne was raised by Tim Trinity. Daniel comes to debunk him, and he wants to debunk him hard and fast. But, Daniel discovers that Trinity's tongues seem to be real.

The idea for The Trinity Game came early for Chercover. He had to write that book. He first had the idea for it in 1996. He originally wrote it as a screenplay. It was too unwieldy, though. And, Chercover hadn't written a book before. He felt it should be a book. He had always wanted to write novels.

Chercover became a private eye because he wanted to write crime fiction. He became a P.I. in Illinois. He intended to do it for four months, and then it became a job, and he did it for four and a half years. He did TV documentaries, sold a screenplay that was never made. He decided he needed to do it or quite talking about writing. He wrote the couple Roy Dudgeon stories, but this story wouldn't let go.

While doing research, Chercover learned in 1983 Pope John Paul II abolished the Office of the Devil's Advocate, the office responsible for investigating miracles. That job was actually transferred to another office. In the years after, there were all kinds of beatifications. However, the investigation of current miracles still went on, but it was done by another office under a different name. It still goes on.

Sean said readers want a resolution at the end of a book, but P.I.'s don't always learn the whole truth. Chercover told us about one of his cases. A librarian took her car in for a simple oil change and tires rotated. Twenty minutes after she picked it up, the right wheel fell off. This national chain of service centers couldn't hear the claim. She was a paraplegic with outstanding bills. T hey offered her $400,000. They thought they could stall, and she'd accept it. She sued them, and her lawyer hired Chercover to find the mechanic who worked on the car to get his witness statement. He was a mess when Chercover found him. The morning the woman brought the car in, he had just been served divorce papers. He asked for the day off, and was told no. He messed up, and it cost her the use of her legs. The company's legal department to him to lay low, which is illegal. He felt intimidated. But, they got his statement, and got her a $10 million settlement. Everyone had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The lawyers who had told the mechanic to disappear got off without a punishment. Sometimes, you don't always get justice. You get what justice you can, and then move on. Chercover tries to give readers a sense of justice, resolution.

The Trinity Game is a bigger thriller than Chercover's earlier mysteries. He didn't have to adhere to the same rules. The father/son relationship is a big part of this book.

In answer to a question, Chercover said legal searches and procedures were more difficult in the early '90s, before the Internet. In order to become a private investigator in Illinois, you had to get an Illinois Blue Card, called that because it was blue. You had to take two courses offered by licensed schools. You had to have handgun training. Then, you could become a P.I., a bodyguard or work for a security company. But, you had to work for a licensed P.I. You had to apprentice with them for four years before getting your own license. Insurance companies and law firms sometimes had private investigators working for them.

It had been mentioned that Sean was P.I. in Chicago and New Orleans. He said in New Orleans, you only had to get a business license and liability insurance at a certain level of coverage. There was more oversight for a business selling ice cream. You didn't even have to have training. The licensing of private eyes varies widely. These procedures were the requirements in New Orleans before Katrina, but they may have changed.

I asked about the trilogy because Chercover had mentioned The Trinity Game was the first in a trilogy. He said the next one is The Devil's Game. He has an arc for the characters. He has a three-book agreement.

Asked how he finds where to end the first book when he knows he's writing more, he answered that an author sees things that will pay off in future books. He plants seeds for the next book. The books are set in Atlanta and New Orleans, and in between. The stories are going to move around. At the beginning of book two, Daniel Byrne is living in New Orleans. He is living at the Vatican at the start of The Trinity Game. Daniel does go other places. Chercover said he likes New Orleans. It gets under your skin.

Chercover said there are people struggling with their faith in The Trinity Game. He was pleased that he heard from a minister in Michigan who liked the book, but had to get past the profanity. He admitted he could have pulled back a little more with the language. He said, though, he talked with some priests, and it's surprising how salty their language can be.

Chercover lives in Toronto, but doesn't see himself setting future novels there. He doesn't see Toronto in the same way he sees Chicago and New Orleans. He spent summers in Georgia, and the school year in Toronto when he grew up. He sees Chicago and New Orleans as an outsider, and can write about them. It's hard for him to see Toronto through fresh eyes. In addition, he said publishers wouldn't accept books set in Canada at one time. Louise Penny's books are set there, and they're bestsellers. But Linwood Barclay's books set there are generic and could be set anywhere. Setting is a character to Chercover. He's drawn to setting. The Trinity Game is about faith, fathers and sons, and it's set in the South, Atlanta and New Orleans. But, there is a Canadian in The Trinity Game for those who ask. He's an assassin, but he's Canadian.

He does have a set routine. Writing has to be treated like a job. He sets a word count, 1000 words a day, and those 1000 words are pretty polished prose. Sean treats it like a job. It's easy to spend days doing research. "There's a fine line between research and procrastination."

Sean Chercover ended the program by saying it's important to have someone with whom to talk about writing. His friend Marcus Sakey lives in Chicago. They SKYPE or phone all the time, comparing notes. They send each other chapters. It's important to have early readers. Chercover has Sakey, his mom, and his wife.

If you missed the chance to hear Sean Chercover, you can meet him tonight (Friday) at 7 PM at  the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale.

Sean Chercover's website is

The Trinity Game by Sean Chercover. Thomas & Mercer. 2012. ISBN 9781612183183 (paperback), 415p.