Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Small Hill to Die On by Elizabeth J. Duncan

In A Small Hill to Die On, Elizabeth J. Duncan reveals that even cozy Welsh villages are not immune to the crimes of the current world. Strangers in Llanelen stir up interest, and murder soon follows.

Penny Brannigan and her business partner, Victoria Hopkirk, have just opened The Llanelen Spa, and they're getting it up and running. Penny is still disturbed that a body had been found in the ductwork, that of a young woman who went missing in the 1960s. Her uneasiness increases when Mai Grimstead walks into the spa. Mai's Vietnamese family is the talk of the town because they moved into Ty Brith Hall, an estate that had been in the same family for decades. Now, Penny fears the town might be talking even more. Mai wanted to warn the owners of The Llanelen Spa that she was expanding her chain of nail bars into North Wales, opening up a nail bar and tanning salon called Handz and Tanz.

After meeting Mai, Penny is surprised when Mai's nineteen-year-old daughter shows up at the spa for a manicure. But, it's that manicure that leads to the young woman's identification when Penny's dog finds her body.

Penny promises Detective Chief Inspector Gareth Davies that she won't get involved in the murder investigation. But, the older case of the young woman whose body was found in the building of the spa leads her to Ty Brith Hall, and into the greatest danger of her life.

Like yesterday's book, A Fatal Winter, there's very little surprise in this book. However, Elizabeth J. Duncan's readers will welcome this fourth book in the series, and the return to the North Wales town of Llanelen. The characters are the appeal in this series, beginning with Penny, Davies, and the villagers. They're lively, often funny, characters, who truly care about each other and the small village. And, Penny Brannigan, with her understanding of human nature, and her kind heart, is the perfect amateur detective for this series and the latest book, A Small Hill to Die On.

Elizabeth J. Duncan's website is

A Small Hill to Die On by Elizabeth J. Duncan. St. Martin's Minotaur. 2012. ISBN 9781250008244 (hardcover), 259p.

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Fatal Winter by G.M. Malliet

G.M. Malliet's latest Max Tudor mystery takes her MI-5 agent turned Anglican priest into another wonderful tribute to the classic English village mystery in A Fatal Winter. And, this time, he discovers he's a pawn in a killer's game.

Father Max Tudor has settled into a peaceful life in Nether Monkslip, disturbed occasionally when the women of St. Edwold's squabble over important issues such as the cat in the church at Christmastime. But, everyone in the village doesn't have such a calm life. When Lord Footrustle's family gathers at Chedrow Castle for the holidays, it's clear there is going to be trouble. Soon after Max meets Lord Footrustle's sister, Lady Baynard, on a train, he's called to the castle. His friend, DCI Cotton of the Monkslip-super-Mare police, wants to slip him into the hornet's next under the auspices of the church. One of the family members requested a priest after two bodies were found on the property. And, one body was definitely murdered.

No one who reads traditional mysteries will be surprised to find that only the people in the castle itself could have killed the victim. The plot and the unraveling of it are not surprising. However, Malliet is a master at character, atmosphere, and turn of phrase, all of which are striking in this story.

And, she definitely has a flair for describing Max Tudor. When Cotton invited Max to help with the case, Malliet says, Cotton had "An ace up his sleeve...a compassionate man with the heart of a vicar and the soul of a detective, was named Father Max Tudor." Tudor, a little leery about telling his bishop about this latest case realized, "His pastoral duties were starting to overlap with high crimes and misdemeanors."

It's easy to compare Tudor to other detectives, particularly Father Brown or Hercule Poirot. "But, different from both Father Brown and Poirot, Max was interested in both sin and crime. Which made him a potent, double-barreled investigative force." And, Tudor and Cotton make a powerful team. And, I find this wonderful. It's a combination of cop and priest, two men who truly care about the victims. It's an aspect of Malliet's traditional mysteries that I truly appreciate. The victim is not forgotten in these books. Both men find these crimes unspeakable because they care about the victims.

While Tudor spends most of the book at the atmospheric Chedrow Castle, the village scenes are just as beautifully revealed. Malliet's Nether Monkslip is a charming English Village with an intriguing cast of characters. If you're a fan of traditional mysteries, you'll welcome the chance to return to Tudor's home territory.

A Fatal Winter has few surprises for the avid mystery fan. However, anyone who loves the English village mystery, a locked room mystery, and a wonderful cast of villagers, will want to pick up the second book in the Max Tudor series.

G.M. Malliet's website is

A Fatal Winter by G.M.Malliet. St. Martin's Minotaur. 2012. ISBN 9780312647971 (hardcover), 364p.

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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Donis Casey & Vicki Delany via Stephanie Rumsey, Guest Blogger

I enjoyed my trip to North Carolina, but I was disappointed to miss the Authors @ The Teague program with Donis Casey and Vicki Delany. However, one of the librarians, Stephanie Rumsey, not only took over the program for me, she wrote it up! Thank you, Stephanie. Here's Stephanie's summary of the event.


One of the real joys of working in a library is that there is always something new to encounter, to taste, and discover.  Since Lesa was going to be out of town, it fell to lucky me to stand in as guest host to her Authors at the Teague session with Vicki Delany and Donis Casey this past Thursday.

Casey, like her heroine Alafair Tucker, was born and bred in Oklahoma—one of a large family in a small farming town.  If you do not already know, Alafair is the mother of 10 living children.  In Hornswoggled, my first encounter with Alafair, daughter Alice is courted by a widowed man whose wife left this earth under very mysterious circumstances.  Alafair proves it pays to keep her eyes upon her daughter’s suitors.  

Ms. Casey’s newest in this series, The Wrong Hill to Die On, finds Alafair, husband Shaw, and a younger daughter off to Arizona.  After a long spell of damp rainy weather, daughter Blanche needs the dry heat of the southwest to heal her weakened lungs.  Unfortunately, the trip isn’t exactly a smooth one; it takes 10 days to get to Arizona due to the havoc the rain has made of the rail lines.  Though Blanche’s health improves quickly, the stress doesn’t abate once a body is discovered in a nearby Tempe canal.  

Casey’s mysteries are all about the historical settings and Alafair’s surrounding family life. I defy you not to feel like you want to join in on the family line to sway baby Grace on your hip, or to help with dinner dishes.  If this is what Casey’s Oklahoma family life was like, we can only hope to be adopted into her family.     

Ms. Delany, a former systems analyst, hails from suburban Toronto.  Now living in Prince Edward County, she is the creator of the Constable Molly Smith mystery series.  Molly is a young woman who has to learn the ropes of criminal investigation when working in a small town British Columbia police department.  The series has been optioned for Canadian television production. 

More Than Sorrow is a departure from Molly Smith’s adventures.  Set in rural Ontario, it is the gothic tale of Hannah Manning, internationally-renowned war correspondent.  Victim of an IED, Hannah has suffered a traumatic brain injury while in Afghanistan.  Doctors feel she can better recuperate if sent to the bucolic 200 year old farmstead belonging to her sister and husband.  

She finds some measure of peace with her sister, niece and nearby Hila Popalzai, a refugee from Afghanistan suffering from similar loss and trauma.  This peace is short-lived though, when the farm becomes anything other than the calm oasis it should be. Family tensions, financial difficulties and Hila’s disappearance add to Hannah’s crushing headaches.
In an effort to stay out of the way and help the family, she begins to sort out the historical documents in the attic.  As part of a community established for loyalists forced to flee from their stateside homes during the Revolutionary War, Hannah discovers papers belonging to the home’s original residents, Nathaniel and Marie Macgregor, their children and cousin Maggie.  Hannah also begins to see and feel the presence of a woman whenever she enters the farm’s root cellar.  Delany masterfully ties the dual stories together to a satisfying conclusion.  

I can tell you that Donis Casey and Vicki Delany were two authors worthy of discovery on the shelves of the Velma Teague Library.  Hope you will find them at your local library.  

Donis Casey's website is

The Wrong Hill to Die On by Donis Casey. Poisoned Pen Press. 2012. ISBN 9781464200441 (hardcover), 328p. (Also available in trade paperback, ISBN 9781464200465)

Vicki Delany's website is

More Than Sorrow by Vicki Delany. Poisoned Pen Press. 2012. ISBN 9781590589854 (hardcover), 312p.

Donis Casey, Stephanie Rumsey, and Vicki Delany

Donis Casey, Shelly Larson (staff member), and Vicki Delany

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Life at the Sherer's

John and Talia Sherer put me up at their apartment in Chapel Hill, North Carolina while I was in town for two days of assessment for a library job. Talia is the Director of Library Marketing and National Accounts Manager for Macmillan, and John is the Director of University of North Carolina Press. So, what's it like to be a guest in the Sherer household?

You never know where you'll stumble across books when visiting these two.

While walking the UNC campus my first night in town, we came across this book art between two rocks.

And, Talia? Who knew her love of dessert and her love of thrillers intersects in cupcakes?

And, she's willing to take a visitor a few miles to find a wonderful lunch. Check this out - Crunchy Baked Potato Soup.

John and Talia know all kinds of terrific places in the area to eat. We had hamburgers at Spanky's on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. One night, we went to Carrboro to an Italian restaurant called Panzanella, where they pride themselves on a seasonal menu with local produce. (Talia can eat an entire pizza by herself.)

Talia and I drove to Pittsboro to Fearrington Village, and had lunch at The Fearrington Granary.

My terrific lunch with the Crunchy Baked Potato Soup was from The Fearrington Granary. And, my last night in Chapel Hill, we ordered in from the Mediterranean Deli.

Talia loves animals, every animal except one nasty dog that once attacked her. She gave me three books about animals to read while I was visiting. She said I had to see the Belted Galloways, the cattle at Fearrington Village.

If you want roommates to keep you company at the Sherer's, Talia MIGHT let you share a room with Shmackies or Marcie.


Shmackies' Favorite Spot

Marcie in the sunshine

Here's my roommate, Marcie, on the bed.

Marcie and I had a view from our room in the Southernmost Motel in Chapel Hill.

Books, food, animals. It's all a treat with John and Talia. But, when it comes right down to it, what's better than a trip to an independent bookstore for two book lovers? Talia took me to McIntyre's Books, an inviting bookstore in Fearrington Village.

The Library at McIntyre's Books
John & Talia Sherer make friends feel welcome - good food, animals, and of course, plenty of books. And, if you're very lucky, you'll get to pick a book or two from Talia's own stash in her work area - her book nook.

If you're heading to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I'd recommend a visit with two hard-working book lovers, who also happen to be terrific guides. I'm sure John and Talia Sherer will make you feel welcome at their personal Southernmost Motel in Chapel Hill.

Addendum - As much as Talia likes food, she's not the cook in the family. John made us Dutch Babies before I left on Saturday. Check out these works of art.

Dutch Baby in the oven

Dutch Baby just out of the oven

My half of the Dutch Baby

As I said, wonderful hosts who treat guests royally. Thank you, John, Talia, Shmackies and Marcie.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Boo: The Life of trhe World's Cutest Dog by J.H. Lee

One last animal book, since I'm flying back to Phoenix today. Many of you might have seen Boo on television. J.H. Lee's book, Boo: The Life of the World's Cutest Dog, is filled with photographs by Gretchen LeMaistre. As with yesterday's book, I Am Maru, the photos make this book.

It's hard to resist the pictures in this book. And, what reader can resist the cover photo of Boo when he says he "Winds down with a little mental exercise"? This is a charming little book with fun photos of the captivating dog.

It's obvious why Boo has over 5 million fans on his Facebook page, He looks like a stuffed animal with personality plus. The book is just a fun gift book for animal lovers.

As with Maru, the best way to see Boo is actually to see him online. Even Boo's publishing company went gaga over him, as seen in the book trailer for Boo: The Life of the World's Cutest Dog.

Boo: The Life of the World's Cutest Dog by J.H. Lee. Photography by Gretchen LeMaistre. Chronicle Books. 2011. ISBN 9781452103068 (hardcover), 80p.

FTC Full Disclosure - A friend lent me a copy of the book.

Friday, October 26, 2012

I Am Maru by Mugumogu

Cat books are not only perfect gifts, they're ideal reading while dealing with stressful times in life. I did have time to read and laugh at these books, yesterday's book, and today's, I Am Maru by Mugumogu. In Japanese, Maru's name means "rounded shape," the perfect name for this celebrated Scotttish Fold cat.

Maru originally gained fame through the YouTube videos posted by his owner. "Intensive Training" is the #1 video of the group.

Now, in this book, Maru's owner tells about his life and playtime, in both English and Japanese. Maru is an enchanting cat. However, this book is difficult to review because it's the photos that capture the cat's personality. The author tells how the videos came about due to Maru's playfulness.

Honestly? The book is cute, but the videos are even better. I'd recommend watching the videos before deciding if you must have more information about Maru. The book is actually only for diehard Maru fans.

I Am Maru by Mugumogu. HarperCollins. 2011. ISBN 9780062088413 (hardcover), 96p.

FTC Full Disclosure - A friend loaned me a copy of the book.

And, to give equal time to the cats that belong to John & Talia Sherer, here's Shmackies, one of my current roommates in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I Could Pee on This and Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano

If you own a cat, you should also own Francesco Marciuliano's small book of poems, I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats.It's absolutely terrific, and you'll recognize your cat somewhere in these pages.

The author claims that cats received a publishing contract, and wrote these poems to express their thoughts, desires, and their moments of epiphany. Humans can finally understand why cats do the things they do, as they reveal that they see shredded curtains as art. Why do humans buy china when it breaks so easily? (As an owner who lost an entire china cabinet, I can understand that poem.) And, your cat is only counting every sheet of toilet paper when it pulls off the entire roll.

My favorite poem in the entire book is one that my cat sitter would understand. It's called, "I lick your nose."

"I lick your nose
I lick your nose again
I drag my claws down your eyelids
Oh, you're up? Feed me."

Marciuliano's book is filled with enchanting, funny poems, and wonderful photos of cats. Looking for the perfect gift for the cat lover? Try I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats.

I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano. Chronicle Books. 2012. ISBN 9781452110585 (hardcover), 112p.

FTC Full Disclosure - A friend loaned me this book.

(And, just because I can, and this is my blog - a picture of John & Talia Sherer's cat, Marcie. Marcie and I may be sharing a room this week.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why Tess Gerritsen Wrote Last to Die

Sandie Herron is a big fan of Tess Gerritsen and her Rizzoli and Isles series. When she read the following post on Gerritsen's blog, she asked for permission for us to reprint it here. I think you'll appreciate "Take 2."

Why I wrote LAST TO DIE

Monday, Aug 27th, 2012 @ 10:37 am

When I was ten years old, I got a fingerprint kit for my birthday. I’d been obsessed with Nancy Drew mystery novels, and I was convinced that I, too, could be a spunky girl detective and track down all the dangerous criminals lurking in my suburban San Diego neighborhood. The fingerprint kit consisted of a brush and a baggie of black powder. I practiced by dusting various surfaces in my house, blowing off the excess powder, and using Scotch tape to capture the patterns. I never nabbed any dangerous criminals, but I did discover the interesting fact that fingerprint powder is really hard to clean off white walls and furniture.

Thus ended my career as spunky girl detective.

The years passed and I grew up to become a doctor and then a thriller novelist, but I never forgot my childhood fantasy of being a crime-fighter. I realize now that it was a variation of a universal fantasy we all share: that even ordinary people can do extraordinary things. It’s a theme we see often in fiction and in movies: Harry Potter, the despised boy living under the stairs, becomes the world’s greatest wizard. Luke Skywalker, a farm boy, becomes a Jedi knight. So why couldn’t a mere kid help catch a criminal?

In my newest novel Last to Die, that’s exactly what happens.

It’s the tenth in my Rizzoli and Isles crime series starring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles. This time they’re on the hunt for a killer who’s stalking three surviving orphans of different family massacres. Assisting Jane and Maura are a few brilliant young sleuths who belong to The Jackals, a student forensics club at the remote and mysterious Evensong boarding school. The three threatened orphans — Claire, Will, and Teddy — are now sheltered at Evensong, where frightening new events at the school make Jane Rizzoli wonder if the killer has tracked the orphans to the isolated sanctuary that was supposed to keep them safe.

But Evensong is no ordinary school, and Evensong’s students are certainly not ordinary children. Among the students is sixteen-year-old Julian “Rat” Perkins, who saved Maura’s life in my book Ice Cold. As president of The Jackals Club, Julian leads this oddball group of amateur detectives, and they have more than a few tricks up their sleeves — tricks that may save the lives of Jane and Maura.
I never fulfilled my childhood fantasy of being a girl sleuth who catches bad guys. But I can finally bring that fantasy to life in Last to Die, where it just might be the kids who bring down the killer.

Tess Gerritsen's website is

Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen. Random House. 2012. ISBN 9780345515636 (hardcover), 352p.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Giveaway - Cozy Mysteries to Die For

Congratulations to the winners of last week's contest. Louise Penny's A Trick of the Light will go to Beth G. from Breckenridge, CO. Sandy O. of Milford, OH won the autographed copy of Hank Phillippi Ryan's The Other Woman. I'm mailing the books today.

This week, two lucky winners will each receive two cozy mysteries. It seemed appropriate since I just did the monthly book chat featuring cozies. The first two books feature librarians. Jenn McKinlay's Due or Die is a Library Lover's Mystery. When the president of the Friends of the Library is accused of murdering her husband, library director Lindsay Norris investigates with the help of her crafternoon friends and a puppy named Heathcliff. In Elizabeth Lynn Casey's Deadly Notions, librarian Tori Sinclair and her friends in South Carolina's Sweet Briar Ladies Society sewing circle come under suspicion when a self-important pageant mom turns up dead.

Lila Dare and Grace Carroll are the authors of the books in the second package. In Die Job by Dare, a group of intrepid hairdressers investigate a tangled mystery involving a high school student and a centuries-old crime. In Grace Caroll's Died with a Bow, Rita Jewel is the primary suspect in the murder of a fellow sales clerk at Dolce's, an upscale San Francisco boutique.

Which package would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your entries should read either "Win McKinlay/Casey" or "Win Dare/Carroll." Please include your name and mailing adddress. Entries from the U.S. only.

The contest will end Thursday, Nov. 1 at 5 a.m. Good luck!

Monday, October 22, 2012

November Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime/Obsidian

Stormy Roy Ann Weatherly gets a moment in the spotlight today as I discuss the November releases from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Burning House by Foster Huntington

There's a scene in one of my favorite romantic comedies, Leap Year, that is critical to the plot. The heroine is asked, "If your house is on fire, what would you take?" She remembers that question, and, later realizes she doesn't have the same priorities as her boyfriend does. Foster Huntington asked people online, and in person, "If your house were on fire, what would you take?" The result is the book, The Burning House: What Would You Take?

In the introduction, Huntington says the answer to that question is a conflict between the practical, the valuable and the sentimental. On May 10, 2011, Huntington launched his blog at And, he hit the road to talk to people. In a format similar to the Post Secret books by Frank Warren, people use photos and lists to answer the one question interview.

Foster Huntington said, "By removing easily replaceable items and instead focusing on things unique to them, people are able to capture their personalities in a photograph." Maybe. I found that many of the photos in the book were quite similar. Because so many participants were artists or designers, there were a large number of cameras and laptops included. My favorite photos were ones that also included brief explanations as to why they would take the items, not just a list of items. And, it struck me how many of the participants were single with cats. (Honestly, I would want to get my cats out. It would be a lot harder for me to herd those five cats than for the people who only had one.)

Foster Huntington's The Burning House is a book for thought. I appreciated the answer from the woman who kept a suitcase already prepared with what she would take. Several answers came from people who had to leave a burning house. They answered themselves and their cat. I haven't walked through my place to look at everything, but, in case of fire, I wouldn't have that chance anyways. What would I take? My cats and one photo album my mother gave me. That album is filled with irreplaceable pictures of my early life. There are pictures of my parents and my grandparents. I think I better get it off the top shelf now because I couldn't easily reach it to take.

So, there's your question from Foster Huntington. The Burning House: What Would You Take?

Foster Huntington's website is, and he's on Facebook at

The Burning House: What Would You Take? by Foster Huntington. HarperCollins. 2012. ISBN 9780062123480 (paperback), 269p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy, after I requested it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Into the Woods"

No book review today since I worked yesterday, and went to see "Into the Woods" last night at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre. I saw "Into the Woods" last year for the first time with my cat sitter who loves this musical. The book is by James Lapine, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Based on classic fairy tales, it tells of a number of characters who go into the woods looking for happy endings to their stories. By the end of Act One, it appears as if everything ended "Happily Ever After". But, happily ever after goes horribly wrong in Act Two, resulting in tragedy.

Desert Stages Theatre's main stage is in the round, which made for a fascinating production as characters appeared on both sides of the audience and above us, as well as on the stage itself. It made for tight dancing scenes for the actors, but it added to the intimacy of the show. I have one of the same criticisms for this show that I have for so many other productions. The background music is so loud, it sometimes drowns out the voices of the characters. Either the sound system was weak in this production, or the acoustics were bad. All three of us who went complained we couldn't make out all of the lines, particularly those of the young boy who played the narrator. Characters often spoke so fast (as they do in this show naturally) that the words were difficult to hear. That was a big problem with the narrator.

Cinderella, the Witch, and the actor who played Rapunzel's Prince and the Wolf had particularly good voices. I'm not naming the actors because the program was somewhat confusing. There are two princes in this show. One is Rapunzel's Prince and one is Cinderella's Prince. It lists Cinderella's Prince as also playing the Wolf. I don't believe so. I believe the actor who portrayed Rapunzel's Prince also played the Wolf, and I don't want to misidentify the actors.

We bought our tickets through Goldstar, the second time we've done that. Tickets are often half-price through them, which is a good way to try a new show or a new theater. After seeing "Into the Woods" twice, I can say it's a fun show with unusual twists.I'll go back to see it again, if only because of the duet, "Agony" sung by the two princes. Funny song that pokes fun of every prince in fairy tales.

Friday, October 19, 2012

If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance by Paige Shelton

Paige Shelton brings back all the beloved characters from her Country Cooking School Mystery series in the new book, If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance. Naturally, in a community as unusual as Broken Rope, Missouri, there's the addition of a new ghost, Sally Swarthmore. There's also the addition of a large cast of characters from outside the town.  Broken Rope may still have a reputation as an unusual town for murder, but this time, it's not a local resident who dies.

Isabelle "Betts" Winston and her Gram are doing the midsummer cleaning of the Cooking School before starting a night class dealing with everything about potatoes when Betts receives a request from her best friend, Jake, the town historian. A group of foodies need a place to stay for the night when their reservations for the local hotel are messed up. Jake suggests they stay at the Cooking School, but Betts' brother has a better idea. He's working construction at an about-to-be-opened B&B, and he thinks they could take in the busload of visitors. That traveling group, though, leads to nothing but trouble for Broken Rope.

It doesn't take long for that group to cause trouble, either. Early the next morning, Jake finds the body of one of the foodies outside his office, and two others have disappeared. The local police are forced to call in reinforcements to investigate the complicated case.

It's even more complicated than they know. While Betts is caught up in that case, she's also investigating the story of murders that occurred years earlier when Sally Swarthmore was supposed to have killed her parents with an ax. When Sally appears to Betts, she wants her to hunt for her missing diary, convinced that will prove her guilt or innocence. And, the more Betts gets to know Sally, the more she hopes to prove she's innocent. Sally's story seems to lead in the same direction as to clues about the missing foodies.

I love the ghost stories of Broken Rope, Missouri. Betts' relationship with the ghosts is fascinating. And, Sally Swarthmore is an intriguing character. This series remains charming because the ghosts will be new and fresh in each book.

However, If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance is disappointing in some ways. I'm not a big fan of "If I had only known," and a few too many times in this book, Betts indicates that she missed seeing someone at the old Monroe House, and the ending might have been different. Every time Shelton pointed to the old house, she was obvious about it. And, it's clear that something was going on there, and the characters who should have known that didn't investigate. There were too many obvious clues to characters and locations to make this a totally satisfying story. The Cooking School elements were just a minor part of this account. Even the wrap-up of Sally's story seemed a little too abrupt.

I read Paige Shelton's If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance for Betts, Sally Swarthmore, and Sally's story. Those elements were fun, while some other aspects of the mystery were disappointing.

Paige Shelton's website is

If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance by Paige Shelton. Berkley Prime Crime. 2012. ISBN 9780425251614 (paperback), 293p.

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bouchercon Giveaway

I'm going to start kicking off my giveaways on Thursday mornings, except next week. This giveaway will actually run only until Tuesday morning, Oct. 23, and I'll start a new one early. I'm flying to Chapel Hill, North Carolina next Wednesday, so I have to end this week's contest early.

I'm giving away two books associated with the recent Bouchercon convention. Louise Penny won the Anthony Award for A Trick of the Light, the Chief Inspector Gamache novel that took him back to Three Pines. It's a story of the art world, and a world of shadow and light, a world of secrets. I have a trade paperback of that award winning mystery to give away.

Or, you could win an autographed ARC of Hank Phillippi Ryan's recent suspense novel, The Other Woman. Hank was inducted as President of Sisters in Crime at their meeting at Bouchercon so this is the perfect time to give away this book. And, of course, it's a page turner involving journalism, politics, and crime. Ryan's slogan for this book? "You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences."

Would you like to win A Trick of the Light or The Other Woman? You can enter to win both, but I'll need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win A Trick of the Light" or "Win The Other Woman." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end, as I said, on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 5 a.m. PT. The books will go out that day.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jane Isenberg, Guest Blogger

Jane Isenberg's mystery, The Bones and the Book, is a departure from her Bel Barrett mysteries featuring an English professor in mid-life. Those earlier mysteries are the reason for Isenberg's interesting biography on her publisher's webpage. It says, "Jane Isenberg taught English to urban community college students for close to thirty years. She has been writing mysteries ever since she experienced her first hot flash. Her copies of Modern Maturity are delivered to her new home in Amherst, Massachusetts, that she shares with her husband Phil Thompkins." It's my pleasure to welcome guest blogger, Jane Isenberg, today.

          Widowed by the 1965 earthquake, Seattle housewife Rachel Mazursky translates the Yiddish diary of a murdered young immigrant girl whose bones were unearthed by the same quake. Rachel shares her translation with the reader so the diarist’s distinctive voice alternates with Rachel's own passionate account of her response to the diary. The refugee’s story moves Rachel, compelling her to read between the lines while searching Seattle for clues to the young woman's murder.

          A Jewish fortune teller inspired me to write The Bones and the Book. I remember gaping at a facsimile of her business card in the gift shop of the Tenement Museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Her card claims that she “tells you the past, present and future” and “gives the best advice in business, journeys, law suits, love, sickness, and family affairs.” Over a century ago this immigrant palmist lived in the very same building that houses the Museum. Where did she get the guts to flout rabbinical strictures that forbid predicting the future? I’m a big fan of women who defy rules men make for us, so right there in that shop I resolved to write a historical mystery featuring a young Orthodox Jewish palm reader living on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I named her Feigele, and she took up residence in my head sharing space with Bel Barrett whose adventures I was then writing about. 

          Feigele was still in my head years later when I moved from the east coast to Issaquah, Washington where I discovered that I was often the only Jew in the room, an outsider. I began reading Pacific Northwest history including that of the small Jewish community there. What would a spirited Orthodox Jewish girl like Feigele have experienced in rough Nineteenth Century Seattle or in lawless Alaska during the Gold Rush? She could very well have come to a bad end. She could have been killed. With that realization, I decided to set Feigele’s story in the Pacific Northwest and have her tell it in her diary.
          But Feigele would have written her diary in Yiddish, and I don’t speak Yiddish. That’s when I invented Rachel Mazursky, the widow who translates the fortune teller’s diary in 1965 and ultimately figures out who killed the diarist. Rachel is a smart and resilient Jewish mother with an empty nest, an empty bed, a passion for history, and a tale of her own to tell. Unlike Feigele who looks to the future, Rachel probes the past for clues and finds comfort and courage there as well. Readers see early Jewish Seattle and Gold Rush Skagway through Feigele’s immigrant eyes and Sixties Seattle through Rachel’s American ones.
My Bel Barrett mysteries are set in a time and place I’m very familiar with and Bel does work I had done for decades and was still doing when I began to write the series. But The Bones and the Book is set in two different time periods, one I knew little about and the other I barely remembered. As a recent “transplant” to Washington, I also knew little of the Pacific Northwest and, truth to tell, as a not very observant Jew, I knew little of Orthodox Judaism or Jewish history. And the work Feigele does is not work I’ve ever done. So, for the first time, I was writing what I didn’t know. But I had retired, and I was determined to learn what I needed to know to tell this story and so learn I did
After years of research, I finally let the long-dead pioneer palmist out of my head, turned her loose on the page, listened to her voice, and joined her on her very American outsider’s odyssey. Writing The Bones and the Book has been deeply rewarding. By fictionalizing the little known history of Seattle’s pioneer Jews, I’ve become a pioneer myself instead of an outsider.

Thank you, Jane. What a fascinating story about your new book!

Jane Isenberg's website is

The Bones and the Book by Jane Isenberg. Oconee Spirit Press. 2012. ISBN 9780984010929 (paperback), 262p.