Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year Wishes

As we end 2013, I can't think of anything I can wish you that's any more important than good health. That statement "If you have your health, you have everything" might seem a little trite, but it's hard to enjoy life if you're suffering or in pain.

But, after health, I hope you have people to love in your life. I wish you dreams and good books to help you dream.

And, I want to thank you for being with me for 2013, and all the books and years before. Here's to 2014, our dreams and our books.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Favorite Books of 2013

I never do a "Best of" list at the end of the year. Instead, I do a list of my favorite books of the year. It's a nice way to look back at the year, remembering the books that moved me, or books that stayed with me for one reason or another. It's a personal list, so I'm sure there isn't a duplicate any place. And, I have to say many of these authors are friends. Saying that, I still reviewed their books as I would any other. But, when it comes to favorites, maybe that friendship gave them an edge. Why not? It's my list of favorites, not a "Best of" list. I don't rank the books in any order. These are my ten favorite, with one special one added. And, they're listed in the order I read them.

Sophie Littlefield's Garden of Stones was one of my two selections from books I read in February. It's the

story of Lucy Takeda, who was in eighth grade in Los Angeles in December 1941, the privileged daughter of a successful businessman. Three months later, she and her mother are in the prison camp Manzinar. Littlefield's story of a mother's sacrifice, strong women, and mystery, is a powerful, unforgettable novel.

The other February release is Kaye Wilkinson Barley's Whimsey. Although I've never met Kaye, she's been an online friend for years. That's all the more reason to celebrate the publication of her debut novel. It's the story of a woman drawn back to her childhood home on a magical island, Whimsey, off the coast of Georgia. Whimsey is an artists' colony, and it's there that Emma Hamilton Foley will have to face her demons and her feelings about her past and the Whimsey magic. When I reviewed it, I said, "Barley brings all of her love of southern life, southern women, and art to Whimsey. It's a story that sparkles with life and humor, and characters who enjoy all of it. And,Whimsey's magical realism will remind readers of Ellery Adams and Sarah Addison Allen. It's a charming book, filled with laughter."

I've been a fan of Beth Hoffman's books before Saving CeeCee Honeycutt was even published since I reviewed it for Library Journal. Beth avoids the sophomore slump with her second novel, Looking For Me. Teddi Overman tells the story of her younger life growing up on a Kentucky farm with her parents, her Grammy Belle and beloved brother, Josh. When I reviewed it, I said, "Hoffman intricately weaves a love of nature, animals and plants and flowers, into a complex story of family, disappointment and tragedy. Every character, every animal is carefully brought to life with an essential role. There are no unimportant people or animals in this carefully crafted, compelling story." Looking for Me will be out in paperback in April. We think enough of Beth Hoffman and her books that we're devoting two weeks of our adult summer reading program to the book, and Beth will kick off the week by speaking at the library.

I only have one juvenile book on my list, Chris Grabenstein's Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's LibraryMy

mother still reminds me that I always wished I could be locked in the library when I was a kid. No place had more magic. Chris Grabenstein captures all of that magic of a library, along with the fun of game playing, as he pits twelve-year-olds against each other in his own reality show, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's LibraryGrabenstein's book, designed for eight to twelve-year-olds, is a little Charlie and the Chocolate Factory mixed with reality show competitions and literary trivia. It's a love letter to libraries, but it's not a boring book that will turn kids off. It's fun, competitive, and filled with adventure. And, if I was a kid, I wouldn't really want to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library.

The second debut novel on my list is Jessica Brockmole's Letters from SkyeLetters from Skye deserves a moment in the sun. This novel of star-crossed lovers is also a story of mother and daughter, family, and wartime romance. And, it's all told in the form of lovely letters full of poetry and longing. It's a novel that will tug at your heart.

Louise Penny's 2013 Armand Gamache mystery, How the Light Gets In, is on a

number of "Best of" lists, and it deserves to be. It's a novel that brings to a culmination many of the story lines in the series. Light and dark. Good and evil. Corruption and honesty. Louise Penny has always dug into opposing forces in the world. In The Beautiful Mystery, she foreshadowed some of the troubles of How the Light Gets In. One foreboding statement hung over that entire book, Matthew 10:36. "And a man's foes shall be of his own household." That quote is echoed in the course of this latest mystery, but Louise Penny always leaves room for the light, for hope. In fact, it's a quote from Leonard Cohen that offers hope, and provided the title for the book, "There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." There's no crack of weakness in any of Louise Penny's mysteries. Once again, she has written a beautiful, compelling story, one with more tension than many of the previous books. 

There's one cozy mystery on my list, Ellery Adams' Poisoned Prose. The latest Book by the Bay mystery hits the mark in every respect, from the story, the characters and setting, the careful words, to the final sentence. Even the cover art by Kimberly Schamber is wonderful, just perfect for this book. The best village mysteries bring characters and a setting to life, and invite readers back, despite the occasional murder. Louise Penny does it with Armand Gamache and Three Pines. Ellery Adams does it as well with Oyster Bay, North Carolina and Olivia Limoges and her friends. Poisoned Prose is a book about writers and storytellers and words, and there happens to be a murder.

This year, there's a Nora Roberts book on my list. Dark Witch is the first in the

Cousins O'Dwyer trilogy. It's a romance with historical and mystical overtones. Dark Witch is more than just another bestseller by the author of 199 novels under her own name as well as the J.D. Robb books. Dark Witch is magical in so many ways. There's powerful magick. There's power in the number three; the three cousins, the three friends, the three animals. Ireland itself is a land of magic. And, Nora Roberts' new book has the strongest magic of all, the magic of "love freely given and freely accepted".  

Gail Carriger's Curtsies & Conspiracies is the only young adult novel on the favorite books list. The second book in her steampunk Finishing School series is  a wonderful foray into that alternate Victorian world where steam power is important, lighter-than-air dirigibles are common, and werewolves and vampires are part of Queen Victoria's government, although some people are not happy with that last fact. Sophronia Temminnick is a fourteen-year-old learning to use her wits and her skills. Curtsies & Conspiracies is a coming-of-age novel for a young girl in Victorian England. There's humor as Sophronia gets caught, and caught up in, her adventures. There are just hints of romance in the novel. The supernatural and mechanical creatures are marvelous. It's a fast-paced adventure filled with suspense and secrets. And, best of all, Gail Carriger leaves hints of more espionage and adventure to come in the next book.

And, the last novel on the official favorites list is Craig Johnson's novella featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire,
Spirit of Steamboat. Following my original review, my sister bought it for a Christmas present for her husband, and my mother finished it yesterday. On Christmas Eve, Sheriff Walt Longmire is in his office when a young woman walks in. Although she seems to know Walt, he doesn't recognize her. She also wants to see a picture of Lucian Connally, the former sheriff. Walt takes her to see Lucian in an assisted living facility. He's drunk, but aware enough to say he doesn't know her either. When she whispers the word, "Steamboat", the story takes an unusual turn to a Christmas past. In just 146 pages, Johnson manages to pay homage to the past, and bring back the youth and life of a few of his characters. This is a story of courage and character. In the acknowledgements, he says this is an odd little book. "It's not a mystery per se, but rather an adventure/thriller with mysterious elements; sometimes it's not so much about the suspense of killing characters off in a book, but rather, of trying to keep them alive." This "odd little book", Spirit of Steamboat, manages to bring characters to life and keep the reader turning pages.

Because it's my list, I'm adding Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests, Seventh Edition, edited by Cynthia Orr & Diane Tixier Herald. It's a readers' advisory book, and I wrote the chapter about mysteries. And, if I don't include a book with my chapter in it, who will?

I read 156 books in 2013, a little low for me, but a move across country and a new job took a toll on my reading time. However, it's always fun to go back and look at what I read during the year. So, what about you? Do you have some favorite books from 2013?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Silent Knife by Shelley Freydont

This is the last book review of the year. I still have a post featuring my favorite books of 2013, and the New Year's Eve post, so there's only time for one more book review. I'm back to work tomorrow after six days off for Christmas, so it's perfect that I end the review year with the last Christmas mystery, Shelley Freydont's Silent Knife.

Liv Montgomery left the bright lights of Manhattan behind to take a job as event planner for Celebration Bay, New York. It's her first Christmas celebration, and she wants everything to go perfectly for the townspeople and the tourists. Before she can even watch all the shops on the square turn on their lights, though, she has trouble. Someone decided to permanently turn out the lights on Santa Claus.

Oh, it's not the town's Santa Claus, and that's part of the problem. One store in town was in violation of all the store agreements, and of all places, it was Trim a Tree, the Christmas store. The new tenant had turned a once attractive store into a gimmicky disaster, and none of the other merchants were happy. Then, when she hired a Santa, in violation of the town's agreement there would only be one Santa, Hank Ousterhout, Hank went on the rampage. He'd had that job for twelve years, and no fake Santa was going to ruin Celebration Bay's Christmas observances. Unfortunately, the murder of a fake Santa could easily upset all the merchants, and threaten the success of the Christmas season. And, what's worse is that Hank, the town's real Santa, is the number one suspect.

Shelley Freydont's holiday mysteries are perfect for seasonal reading. The stories have a background of town festivals, and a great cast featuring Liv Montgomery, her assistant, Ted, her Westie, Whiskey, and the other residents of Celebration Bay. And, Freydont's amateur sleuth has a sound reason for poking around. As the event planner for the town, it's her job to ensure that all the festivals run smoothly. Liv Montgomery is not going to let a murder ruin Celebration Bay's festivities and economy.

But, I like Liv for another reason. Her job may depend on the success of the celebrations, but she never forgets about the victims or the people involved. Liv is an ideal amateur sleuth who truly cares about the people of Celebration Bay.

There's never a bad time to read a Christmas mystery. I may be a little late reviewing Shelley Freydont's Silent Knife, but there's always a season to enjoy in Celebration Bay. Even if you set this one aside for next year, you'll want to include it in a Christmas mystery collection. After all, you do want to know what happens to Santa Claus, don't you?

Shelley Freydont's website is www.shelleyfreydont.com

Silent Knife by Shelley Freydont. Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425252383 (paperback), 298p.

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

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Wobbit by The Harvard Lampoon

I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug yesterday, so it was the perfect time to read a parody of the book and movie. The Harvard Lampoon's parody, The Wobbit, is exactly what you would expect, clever, a little crude, and a poke in the eye at fantasy and pop culture. It won't be for everyone, but it is quite clever.

Aaron Sorkinshield and his gang of Little People set out to recapture the Academy Awards that were stolen from them by Puff, the lonely Magic Dragon. Dumbledalf, a senile wizard who seems to be in the wrong story since he talks about Hairy, wands, and leaves a lightning bolt mark on a door, finds Billy Bagboy, a wobbit, to accompany the Little People on their quest. (Did you know "wobbits wobble but don't fall down"?)

Although the journey and adventures in The Wobbit remain faithful to the book, the characters met along the way do not. There are Internet trolls who cause problems with Google, YouTube, and searches. There's the Elvisking who lives in a castle known as Graceland, and croons songs such as "You Ain't Nothin' but a Half-Elf." Richard Nixon is a character with a famous V trademark. But, my favorite part of the adventure is the Elf Cult of Celebritology, housed in Livinwell.

Ah, Celebritology, the ancient two-month-old religion founded by the Master of the Old Phony House, L.Ron. Billy and the Little People were star-struck when they met two of the most famous members of the Elf Cult of Celebritology. John Travoltwhros piloted a secret spaceship. And, then Tom Cruiseneanor "slid onto the scene in a dress shirt and tighty-whities, having just finished rubbing his naked body on an ottoman for three hours."

The Wobbit, as I said, can be a little crude and raunchy. At the same time, it has funny sections, such as the part about Celebritology. The Harvard Lampoon staff doesn't hesitate to poke fun at fantasy, television, books, and politics. They manage to attack everything from Downton Abbey to diets to fans of Joss Whedon while remaining true to the plot of The Hobbit. In other words, they succeeded brilliantly in insulting everyone, just what a parody sets out to do.

The Harvard Lampoon website is www.harvardlampoon.com

The Wobbit by The Harvard Lampoon. Simon & Schuster. 2013. ISBN 9781476763675 (paperback), 151p.

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

Friday, December 27, 2013

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax

I started to review Wendy Wax' While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, and didn't feel as if I was capturing the flavor of the book. It's women's fiction, the story of a group of women who come together because of the PBS show. However, this book has a different slant than many women's novels. It's an unusual man who brings them together, not just the TV show.

Edward Parker is the concierge at the Alexander, a historic Atlanta apartment building. His family has been in service in England for generations. With a degree from Cornell School of Hotel Administration and years of experience, he finally started his own business, Private Butler, and won the contract at the Alexander. And, he's smart enough to think he might be able to bring together some of the women in the building by showing Sunday night screenings of the first two seasons of Downton Abbey leading up to season three.

Edward manipulates three of the women to sit together. At forty-seven, even after twenty-six years of marriage to a wealthy man, Samantha Davis is still insecure. She was a young bride with two younger siblings to raise, always grateful to her husband for marrying her and saving them from financial and legal issues. She appears to have everything, but her family life isn't quite what it appears.

After three years of marriage, Claire Walker divorced her husband, and raised her daughter, Hailey, on her own. Now, Hailey's off to college, and after writing two historical romances while working, Claire moved into the Alexander, giving herself a year to write full-time. But, that's not working quite as she expected.

Brooke MacKenzie, her husband, and two daughters moved into the building because her plastic surgeon husband wanted to be closer to monied people. Then, he left her for a younger woman, leaving Brooke a little stunned and feeling inadequate.

For a little while, it seems as if Edward Parker's plans to create friendship will succeed. But, even the perfect Private Butler can't make life go smoothly. While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is a treat, just in time for the next season of Downton Abbey to premiere in January. And, the book also has a great cast with family problems, financial problems, issues that affect relationships. Wendy Wax had a wonderful idea to spin a novel around the screening of Downton Abbey. She succeeds beautifully with a warm novel about friendship. It's an appealing story that doesn't depend on the television show for its success.

Wendy Was' website is www.authorwendywax.com

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax. Berkley Books. 2013. ISBN 9780425263310 (paperback), 376p.

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

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Day After

Sounds like a science fiction movie, "The Day After". In this case, it's the day after a relaxing Christmas. I spent five hours with friends, and some of the rest of the day talking with family on the phone. It was a good day, with not enough time to finish a 350 page book.

So what did you get that was book related? If you''d rather talk about what you're reading now, I'm listening.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

December 31st is actually the end of the year, but my year always culminates with Christmas. I love Christmas - family and friends, the music, the lights and decorations, the gifts, the food. This year it's a quiet Christmas spent with friends since I had a wonderful Thanksgiving visit with family. That doesn't mean that I'm not thinking of them.

For me, Christmas is a time to say thank you for the wonderful people in my life, and the loved ones who are no longer here. I miss them, but I feel loved and blessed that I had them in my life. And, I feel loved and blessed with the family and friends I have.

I'm including you - all of the readers, authors and friends who visit here regularly. Thank you for sharing my love of books. Thank you for sharing a little of my life.

May your holiday season, and the next year, be filled with loved ones and wonderful books.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Starling by Sage Stossel

Have you ever really thought about the personal life of a superhero? Oh, sure. Clark Kent was a
newspaperman. A little nerdy. But what happens when you're a female superhero and your personal life is a mess? It's not easy as Sage Stossel reveals in the graphic novel Starling.

Amy Sturgess is seeing a psychiatrist, one of only two people who know about her secret identity as Starling, a superhero. Amy's life has been a mess. As a young girl, classmates made fun of her since she always smelled like cats, growing up in a household where her mother cared more for her thirty-six cats than her husband and kids. It wasn't until Amy hit puberty and discovered she had a few powers, speed, and electric sparks shooting from hr hands, that she actually had a few friends. And, then the Vigilante Justice Association found her, revealed she had one more power, and asked her to with with them to protect the public good. Amy Strugess' secret identity as Starling was born.

There are just a couple problems with being a superhero. First, it's messing with Amy's career in marketing. One of her co-workers tries to steal her work because she disappears frequently. And, it's hard to keep a boyfriend when he can be shocked when she touches him. Somehow Amy Sturgess needs to find a way to save herself, not just other people.

Sage Stossel takes a graphic novel and the story of a superhero and makes it relevant in today's world. It's a graphic novel for working women trying to cope with busy lives. Amy is a working woman with a life a little more complex than many, but Sage Stossel makes her seem just like the troubled woman next door. Stossel takes Amy through all kinds of troubles until she has to find a way to become a superhero in her own life.

Sage Stossel's website is www.sagestossel.com

Starling by Sage Stossel. InkLit. 2013. ISBN 9780425266311 (paperback).

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

Rosemary and Crime by Gail Oust

Piper Prescott may be setting up her spice shop in a charming little town in Georgia, perfect for a cozy
mystery, but she'll have to be prepared to be a murder suspect. A divorced woman, mid-forties with a new business, and a smirking ex-husband running around with a hot young babe, is the ideal patsy for a murderer. Gail Oust sets Piper up perfectly to be the primary suspect in Rosemary and Crime.

On the eve of the opening of her new shop, Spice It Up!, Piper should be relaxing and preparing for the next day when chef Mario Barrone would demonstrate cooking lamb at the opening of her new shop. Instead, she's running around at night, trying to save a puppy. But, the next day when she finds a knife outside Mario's restaurant, and then finds the body of the chef, she also finds herself a murder suspect. Piper's confident she has an alibi in the vet, but when the new police chief Wyatt McBride can't find the vet or the pup, she realizes she's in trouble.  Now, Piper's fingerprints are on the weapon; she had an argument with the dead man; and her alibi has disappeared. And, it seems only her BFF, her best friend Reba Mae, thinks Piper's innocent.

Everything Piper had was sunk into her new shop. Now, she's ostracized by people, unless they're gawking at her. No one is buying spices. She decides to take matters into her own hands. "Seems I had a choice to make. I could either sit meek as a mouse - or I could take matters into my own hands and do a little investigating on my own." Reba Mae tries to talk her out of it, but, instead Piper talks her friend into being her sidekick. They thought first they'd be Cagney and Lacey. Instead, they are much more like Lucy and Ethel, as Piper herself admits.

Gail Oust has written a typical cozy mystery that launches a series. The heroine of the series ends up a suspect in a small town. Just recently divorced, there's no romance yet, but there are hints of a rivalry between two men for her affection. It's Piper's relationship with Reba Mae that sets this series apart. That friendship between "Lucy and Ethel" will continue to get the two into trouble, even when Reba Mae is oblivious. Read Rosemary and Crime to discover Brandywine Creek, Georgia where Piper Prescott runs Spice It Up! You'll want to explore the town, and murder, with Piper and Reba Mae.

Gail Oust's website is www.gailoust.com

Rosemary and Crime by Gail Oust. Minotaur. 2013. ISBN 9781250011046 (hardcover), 310p.

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

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson

I've been looking back over the books I read in 2013, and, while there were a number of good ones, there weren't a large number of outstanding ones. Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire novella, Spirit of Steamboat, falls into the outstanding category.

On Christmas Eve, Sheriff Walt Longmire is in his office when a young woman walks in. Although she seems to know Walt, he doesn't recognize her. She also wants to see a picture of Lucian Connally, the former sheriff. Walt takes her to see Lucian in an assisted living facility. He's drunk, but aware enough to say he doesn't know her either. When she whispers the word, "Steamboat", the story takes an unusual turn to a Christmas past.

On Christmas Eve 1988, a car crashed, caught on fire, leaving three people dead and one survivor. But, the survivor wasn't going to make it unless Sheriff Longmire could find a way to get her to Denver in the middle of a blizzard. Sheriff Longmire, in his first term as sheriff, left his wife and daughter behind on Christmas Eve, and teamed up with defeated sheriff Lucian Connally to fight their way through a storm to try to save a life.

There's a little more on the book jacket, but I'm not going to spoil an outstanding story. In just 146 pages, Johnson manages to pay homage to the past, and bring back the youth and life of a few of his characters. This is a story of courage and character. In the acknowledgements, he says this is an odd little book. "It's not a mystery per se, but rather an adventure/thriller with mysterious elements; sometimes it's not so much about the suspense of killing characters off in a book, but rather, of trying to keep them alive." This "odd little book", Spirit of Steamboat, manages to bring characters to life and keep the reader turning pages. It's amazing that Craig Johnson can pack so much history, riveting story, atmosphere and adventure into one novella. But, then, he's a master of his craft with a gift of storytelling.

This holiday season, pick up Craig Johnson's latest Walt Longmire story, Spirit of Steamboat, as a gift to yourself or the Longmire lover in the family.

Craig Johnson's website is www.craigallenjohnson.com

Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson. Viking. 2013. ISBN 9780670015788 (hardcover), 146p

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What are you reading?

Well, I went to a concert last night instead of finishing my book. Even though Craig Johnson's Spirit

of Steamboat is a small novella, I was out listening to Straight No Chaser. I'll be finishing it today.

Since I don't have a book to tell you about, are you reading one this weekend? Or are you just too busy? Tell us about the book you're reading or listening to. If you're just too busy, you're probably not reading blogs this weekend either.

We'd love to know what you're reading, or plan to read over the holidays!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Laurie Cass, Guest Blogger

Today, I'd like to welcome Laurie Cass to the blog. I was interested in Laurie's new series because it 
features a bookmobile librarian and a bookmobile cat. And, when I mentioned Lending a Paw to our bookmobile librarian, it turned out she had met Laurie at the annual bookmobile convention. It's a small world when it comes to libraries.

But, Laurie isn't here today to talk about libraries or bookmobiles. She's here to talk about cats. Thank you, Laurie.

What We Did When Eddie Got Weird

The first book in my bookmobile cat series, Lending a Paw, was recently released, and from what I’ve heard, people across the country are falling in love with Eddie, the bookmobile cat.

Clearly, I did not do my job as a writer.

The fictional Eddie is based on a real cat, and while my husband and I love the real version very much, he is a strange creature. I’ve had cats and dogs most of my life and I can state, with great confidence, that he is the oddest feline I’ve ever met in my life.

How odd is he? Let me count the ways…no, never mind. We don’t have the time. Let’s do a “for instance” instead. Back a few years ago, our two older cats, a sister and a brother, both passed away within a few months of each other. It was a sad time, but they’d had long happy lives and though my husband and I grieved for them, we understood that even the best cats don’t live forever.

Eddie, however, didn’t understand. At all. Eddie was used to having cat friends in the house. He liked to play with the other two, to sleep with them, to occasionally sleep on them, and to behave in the annoying ways that little brothers can.

But when it became clear to him that he was the only feline in the house, he turned weird. And I mean really weird. Eddie has always had more than his fair share of personality, but each of his quirky traits expanded to extreme levels during his solo weeks.

He destroyed roll after roll of toilet paper.

At three in the morning he would try to sleep on our heads.

When we got home from work, he would follow us around for an hour, whining and whining and whining and no amount of cuddling would get him to calm down.

Weirdest of all, he wouldn’t eat his food unless we followed him to it. Truth. He would stand in the middle of the kitchen floor, make direct eye contact with one of us, and howl at the top of his kitty lungs until he was followed out of the kitchen, down the hall, through the bathroom, and into the mechanical room where his bowl of cat food lived.

Like I said; weird.

I’m not the brightest bulb in the box, but it didn’t take even me very long to figure out that Eddie needed a friend. The next week, we took a trip to the local animal shelter, found a young female who was the cutest, cuddliest cat imaginable, and brought her home. Two hours later they were side by side on my lap, purring as if they’d been practicing all their lives for the moment.

Eddie’s extreme weirdness instantly vanished and has only reappeared in small doses. My husband claims that we were tricked into getting another cat, but I think Eddie was telling us that he needed a friend in the only way he knew how. Weird. Loveable, but weird.

Which makes me think that maybe that’s what Eddie’s new fans are picking up on, that I love my cat dearly. Even if he is weird.

Laurie Cass grew up in Michigan and graduated from Eastern Michigan University in the 80’s with a (mostly unused) Bachelor of Science degree in geology. Currently, Laurie and her husband share their house with two cats, the inestimable Eddie, and the adorably cute Sinii. When Laurie isn’t writing, she’s working at her day job, reading, yanking weeds out of her garden, or doing some variety of skiing. Laurie also writes the PTA Mystery Series under the name Laura Alden.

Laurie Cass' website is http://catmystery.com

Lending a Paw by Laurie Cass. Signet. 2013. ISBN 9780451415462, 352p.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Life in Half a Second by Matthew Michalewicz

I know Matthew Michalewicz intended Life in Half a Second: How to Achieve Success Before It's Too Late to be an inspirational book. But, it can also make a reader uncomfortable. Using his formula, I probably have less than 8,260 days left to live. When you put your life in days left, it's a sobering figure. And, that's exactly what Michalewicz intended.

The author says in planet-time, our lives are only half a second. "The tragedy of life isn't that we only have half a second. The tragedy is that we waste it." Michalewicz says he's obsessed with one question. "What would you do if you only had one year to live?" So, he asks readers to measure their age in "days left" rather than "years lived". Would you change your life if you knew how few days you actually have left?

Michalewicz uses his own life to provide five doors to success in life. And, he says really all books about succeeding in life can be broken down into the same steps beginning with defining your goals, and working on them.

It's a sobering book, as I said. First, he asks readers to look at the days left. And, then he makes the reader wonder what would happen if you defined your life and goals more clearly. Well, darn. I'm going to admit that I haven't had a goal in life since I was twenty-two. My goal was always to be Director of my hometown library. What happens when you achieve your goal at such a young age? I've never found another goal. I wonder where I'd be or what I'd be doing if I had found something else I wanted in life as much as I wanted that job.

So, have you ever defined your goal? Have you reached it, or are you still working on it?

Matthew Michalewicz' website is www.michalewicz.com.au

Life in Half a Second by Matthew Michalewicz. Hybrid Publishers. 2013. ISBN 9781925000207 (paperback), 176p.

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Old Dam Community Band

What does The Old Dam Community Band have to do with books? Nothing. But, I didn't finish my book because I was hosting The Old Dam Community Band from Newburgh at the library last night. What a treat!

The band was founded in 2000. Last night, there were about forty community members gathered together to perform a Christmas concert in the lobby at the library. Do you want to get into the Christmas spirit? Listen to community members who play brass, woodwind, or percussion instruments playing for the joy of it. Watch the faces of the children in the audience when they hear "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" or the music from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". Master of Ceremonies was Randy Wheeler, the voice of WIKY 104.1 radio. And, what a beautiful voice to introduce the history of the songs.

Sometimes, it's important to take a break. Listen to the music of the season, not on TV or a recording, but performed by musicians right in front of you, musicians who only play for fun and the love of the music. I'm ready to book them now for next year.

The band's website is http://www.olddamband.com

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Sayers Swindle by Victoria Abbott

Victoria Abbott follows up the success of the caper, The Christie Curse, with another fun romp involving classic mystery novels. This time, Dorothy L. Sayers is in the spotlight as Jordan Bingham tries to track down a missing collection in  The Sayers Swindle. "The crowd of uncles, friends, colleagues, crooks, and cops" is fitting for the best caper mysteries.

At twenty-six, Jordan Bingham is the first person in the history of her family to go straight. While she tries to save money to go back to school for her PhD, Jordan works for "noted book collector and grouch, Vera Van Alst". This time, Vera has Jordan tracking down a missing collection of first editions by Sayers, books that were sold by a book dealer who failed to check their provenance. And, now, after an accident, Karen Smith, owner of Cozy Corpses mystery bookstore, has problems with her memory. Jordan has her hands full as she tries to press Karen for answers, but they finally track down the buyer of the books. Randolph Adams, the customer, is an elderly man, who may be trapped in his own nightmare with two strange people watching over every move. Now, Jordan is worried that Randolph might be abused. When Randolph and his family disappear, and a body is found nearby, Jordan fears she'll be out in the street with no job and no roof over her head if she can't recover the Sayers collection. She can't return home to her uncles because her shady Uncle Kevin is hiding from even shadier characters, with Jordan's pink childhood bedroom as his refuge.

The Sayers Swindle is filled with black humor in the midst of tragedy as Jordan searches for missing books and a killer. Adding to the Keystone Cops atmosphere are Jordan's uncles and Walter, Karen's pug, now adored by the uncles. As cops disappear and reappear, another dog shows up, and Jordan eats her way through the story, the book just becomes funnier. Throw in zucchini, a little romance, and Jordan's frantic phone calls to hospitals as she searches for missing men. Victoria Abbott has a recipe for fun and mystery. And, over and over again, as she grows puzzled, Jordan Bingham asks that magic question, "What would Lord Peter Wimsey do?"

Victoria Abbott's website is www.victoria-abbott.com.

The Sayers Swindle by Victoria Abbott.  Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425255292 (paperback), 296p.

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

Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Chat - January Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

Here are the ten mysteries featured in this month's book chat, all due out on January 7.

Pecan Pies and Homicides by Ellery Adams - Charmed Pie Shoppe series - #3
A Chorus Line-Up by Joelle Charbonneau - Glee Club series - #3
Playing with Fire by J.J. Cook - Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade series - #2
Murder Sends a Postcard by Christy Fifield - Haunted Souvenir Shop series - #3
Home of the Braised by Julie Hyzy - White House Chef series - #7
Teacup Turbulence by Linda O. Johnston - Pet Rescue series - #2
Paws for Murder by Annie Knox - Pet Boutique series - #1
The Ghoul Next Door by Victoria Laurie - Ghost Hunter series - #8
Tapestry of Lies by Carol Ann Martin - Weaving series - #2
Zero-Degree Murder by M.L. Rowland - Search and Rescue series - #1

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

I've read other steampunk books, but Gail Carriger's Finishing School series really are my favorite ones. Curtsies & Conspiracies is her second book in the young adult series. Once again, it's a wonderful foray into that alternate Victorian world where steam power is important, lighter-than-air dirigibles are common, and werewolves and vampires are part of Queen Victoria's government, although some people are not happy with that last fact.

Sophronia Temminnick never fit in her proper family, but for the last six months she's been a student at Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. While Mademoiselle Geraldine thinks she's actually running a finishing school n the massive airship that looked like three dirigibles crammed together, it's actually a school where young ladies are trained in the art of espionage. Steam-powered mechanicals serve the staff and students. And, Sophronia finds ways to sneak around the academy, learning as many secrets as she can. Her favorite place is the boiler room area where sooties, including her friend, Soap, keep the steam engines running and the airship afloat.

The fourteen-year-old Sophronia isn't quite as comfortable associating with the upperclass young men from Bunson and Lacroix's Boys' Polytechnique, and she definitely isn't comfortable with Viscount Felix Mersey who zeroes in on her for flirtation. She's much more comfortable ferreting out a a kidnapping scheme and some mysterious activities surrounding a communication device. But, she'll use all her wiles, including flirtation, to find answers when mysterious people appear on the airship, and the floating academy sets a course toward London.

Gail Carriger's books are excellent introductions to the world of steampunk literature. In her Finishing School series, she creates her own world, with wonderful characters. Sophronia is a young girl on the verge of discovery, learning how to use her own skills and knowledge, learning the power of her own attractive appearance. At fourteen, she's still confused by her attraction to Soap and her interest in Felix Mersey. It's easier for her to use her knowledge of science and weapons than it is for her to be flirtatious.

Curtsies & Conspiracies is a coming-of-age novel for a young girl in Victorian England. There's humor as Sophronia gets caught, and caught up in, her adventures. There are just hints of romance in the novel. The supernatural and mechanical creatures are marvelous. It's a fast-paced adventure filled with suspense and secrets. And, best of all, Gail Carriger leaves hints of more espionage and adventure to come in the next book.

Gail Carriger's website is www.gailcarriger.com

Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger. Little, Brown & Company. 2013. ISBN 9780316190114 (hardcover), 310p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, December 14, 2013

There is a God! by Richard Smith and Maureen McElheron

It was hard to resist Richard Smith and Maureen McElheron's book, There Is a God!, particularly
because of the subtitle "1,001 Heartwarming (and Hilarious) Reasons to Believe". Actually, some are heartwarming, some funny, and some a little naughty. It's a fun little book, and some of the comments actually do make you think.

There Is a God! is a actually a list of 1,001 comments. So, what are the special moments that prove God's existence? They'll be different for each reader. Here are the ones that stood out for me.

48. Fireflies on a June night

88. According to the body mass index (BMI) chart, you're too short for your weight.

184. The aroma when you open a new box of Crayolas

280. Hearing kitty purr is a can't fail sleep aide

282. John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever"

288. Grandma

579. A root beer float on a sweltering day served in a frosty mug

742. Needing both hands to count your blessings

And, there are forty-six comments called miracles in the book, items that are highlighted. My favorite is Miracle #40 - You were smart enough to choose the right parents.

It almost sounds like a meme on Facebook, doesn't it? There is a God! is a charming little book. You can zip through it, or you can pick it up, and think about the little miracles of life. I know the person who will enjoy this, and I'll be giving my copy as a gift. I think you'll want to read it first, though, to identify some of the little things in life that you never thought of as miracles.

There Is a God!: 1,001 Heartwarming (and Hilarious) Reasons to Believe by Richard Smith and Maureen McElheron. Penguin Group (USA). 2013. ISBN 9780399167805 (paperback), 185p.

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

Libby Fischer Hellmann's Ode to Librarians

When author Libby Fischer Hellmann and I had dinner a few weeks ago, she mentioned an idea she had for a post. It's Libby's gift to librarians, so it's my pleasure to share it here with librarians and anyone who loves libraries. Thank you, Libby!

An Ode to Librarians


  If I could write a song and sing it I would. But I can’t. So words are going to have to do. I want to thank librarians for the difference they’ve made in my life… and it’s a huge one.

A magical place right from the beginning

When I was a little girl — no more than three or four — my mother used to take me to the library, where I’d pick out lots of picture books. Of course I usually picked out the same books every week. As I recall, it was Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel or something like that, as well as Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. Even now, some 60 years later, I still remember those two magical books. But more importantly the library became a place that I associated with fun, pretty images, and safety.

Five books and I was in heaven…

When I first learned to ride a two wheeler, the first place I went was the library. I had baskets on the back of my bike, and I was able to check out as many as five books at a time. That was heaven. I’d come home, park my bike and tear into the first of my books. Libraries became almost like a grocery store of books, where I could find anything I wanted, a treasure trove of discovery, delight and escapism.

Discovering adult books early

I quickly outgrew children’s books and the children’s librarian, being a very intelligent woman, handed me over to the adult librarians. They allowed me to check out books like Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, which I read when I was about 10 years old. Being so young, I didn’t ‘get’ the subtleties and deeper meaning of the books, and I’ve gone back to reread them since. But it was an indication of the librarians’ trust in me that they allowed me to read adult books at such an early age.

Serious teen research

I used the library as a teenager, mostly for research on the papers I needed to write. The highlight came when, after my senior year in high school, I did research at the Library of Congress for my history teacher, who was writing a thesis on Harold Ickes. That was an experience: she had her own desk or “carrel” deep in the stacks of the library, and it was a real treat to go up there every once in a while, sit, and pretend I was writing my own thesis.

The writer’s best friend

I continued my love affair with libraries when I began to write in earnest. I still use the libraries as my go-to place whenever I need to do research. I’ll check out the book from the library, read it from cover to cover, take notes and return it with a thank you.

New technologies

The most exciting research came when I was writing Havana Lost, and, once again, my library was in the middle of it. I was researching Cuban intervention in Angola, and discovered (through Twitter, actually) a UK fellow who’d written his PhD on the subject. His thesis had been turned into a book, but—alas, it was over $300 on Amazon—and I couldn’t afford to buy it. Instead, I called my local library. Three days later, I held the book in my hands and read it from cover to cover.

A big ‘thank you’ to all librarians

I’ve saved the best for last. I haven’t told you about all the wonderful librarians I’ve met over the years. And I want to because they are some of my favorite people. They’re intelligent, articulate, and they understand what I want, sometimes before I know it myself.

But, most of all, they are really fun. Have you ever been out drinking with a bunch of librarians? If not, you’re in for a treat! They’re some of the most entertaining and interesting people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.

Librarians have been a part of my life at every stage of my life. I couldn’t do what I do without them, and I am so grateful that they exist. So I hope, if you’re a librarian, you’ll have a very special holiday. You deserve it.

And if you’re not a librarian, go to your library and make friends with one.  You won’t be sorry.

Libby Fischer Hellman's website is www.libbyhellmann.com

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Spook Lights Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

San Francisco in the 1890s was a study in contrast, great wealth on one hand, great poverty and crime on the other. And, sometimes, in Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini's Carpenter and Quincannon mysteries, those worlds collide. The Spook Lights Affair sheds some light on both worlds, and throws in a little Sherlock Holmes for added atmosphere.

Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon of Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services, have two cases going on at the same time. Sabina is shadowing Virginia St. Ives, the daughter of a prominent family, who has formed an inappropriate liaison. Quincannon is on the trail of a thief who stole $35,000 in a recent Wells, Fargo Express robbery. But, both cases go wrong. And, "the crackbrain who fancied himself to be Sherlock Holmes" shows up to give advice to both detectives. Quincannon doesn't accept that advice willingly, although it has helped them in the past.

While Sabina and her charge were at a party at the mayor's, Virginia climbed a parapet, and seemed to throw herself off of it, right in front of the detective. Quincannon has a terrible time of it as he chases a gambler, and a killer. And, that Sherlock Holmes character could be right, that the two cases are linked.

Once again, Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini team up to bring us two of my favorite characters in historical mysteries. They set the stories against the colorful backdrop of San Francisco in the 1890s. Then, they add the supporting cast that is perfect for this time period; muckraking newspapermen, wealthy debutantes, and, of course, the man who claims to be Sherlock Holmes. Then, there's Sabina Carpenter, a widow and former "Pink Rose" for Pinkerton, along with her partner, John Quincannon, a former member of the U.S. Secret Service.

Journey back to a time when detectives had to rely on their intelligence, their wit, and, sometimes, their fists in order to make a living, and find justice. The Spook Lights Affair is a welcome addition to this world of historical mysteries.

Marcia Muller's website is www.marciamuller.com.

The Spook Lights Affair by Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini. 2013. Forge. ISBN 9780765331755 (hardcover), 256p.

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Home for the Haunting by Juliet Blackwell

Just when I think Juliet Blackwell can't get any better, she ratchets it up a notch. Home for the Haunting, her latest Haunted Home Renovation mystery is her best yet, an intense, riveting story about a tragedy. San Francisco contractor Mel Turner is compelled to find answers to this latest mystery.

Mel never means to find haunted houses. This time, she's leading a volunteer crew who are working on a home for a disabled owner. But, her attention continues to wander to the house next door, the one the neighborhood kids call "The Murder House". Twenty-five years earlier, Sydney Lawrence murdered his wife and oldest daughter. The two youngest children escaped. When some of Mel's volunteer crew finds a body, she's drawn into the case. Surprisingly, it's an inspector with the San Francisco Police Department who asks Mel to help. This time, she wants Mel's help as a medium that can see the ghosts in "The Murder House" because there's a connection to the latest death.

Mel is the grumpy contractor with a heart as big as California. When her older sister moves back home while she goes through marriage problems, Mel is cranky and frustrated. But, she can't imagine how she'd feel if someone killed her family. She relates the ghosts' experiences to her own life, and agrees to help. "I'd had the feeling that my unique talent might be to seek out and find homes filled with pain and strife, and maybe, by renovating them and communicating with their ghosts, bring them back to life."

I admire Mel. She lives with a house full of men, works hard for a living, and, after her divorce, has a hard time accepting that a man might be interested in her. And, she's not like so many amateur sleuths. Mel is aware that she's an amateur, and shouldn't be involved in murder cases. "I may be a crime-solving genius, but if you've noticed, so far my genius pretty much arises from accidents. I haven't actually guessed the perpetrators before they, you know, try to kill me."

Home for the Haunting is the most tragic of Blackwell's novels, the story of a family that appeared to be happy, killed by the husband and father. It's also a warm, sympathetic story as Mel steps up to look for answers for the surviving family member. Mel puts as much energy into finding answers to put ghosts' troubles to rest as she does when she works on a house renovation. And, because of that, her reputation is starting to get around. In Juliet Blackwell's capable hands, Mel Turner becomes the expert on finding answers for owners whose historic houses are haunted by the ghosts of tragedies past. Together, Blackwell and Mel are building reputations.

Juliet Blackwell's website is www.julietblackwell.net

Home for the Haunting by Juliet Blackwell. Obsidian. 2013. ISBN 9780451240705 (paperback), 322p.

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New Arrivals

Since my mailbox was frozen shut since last Thursday, and the office was closed due to weather, I picked up a load of mail today, Christmas cards and books. So, let's share the books that arrived.

I'm going to start with a sad one. The Ways of Evil Men is the late Leighton Gage's last Mario Silva Investigation. It' a story of genocide, when only two members of a tribe are left alive in the remote Amazon jungle. Silva and his team are sent to investigate just as the last surviving Awana man is framed for murder. I'm going to miss Mario Silva and his team, but I'm going to miss Leighton Gage even more. (It's a Jan. 21 release.)

One of my other favorite people in the mystery world is Hilary Davidson. Her next crime novel is Blood Always Tells, "a twisted tale of love, crime, and family gone wrong". Dominique Monaghan just wanted to get even with her two-timing boyfriend, but an elaborate blackmail scheme lands her in the middle of an unexpected kidnapping and attempted murder. When Dominique's older brother receives a frantic call, he drops everything to help her navigate a tangled web of murder and deception. (April 15 release with no cover photo.)

Murder with Ganache is the next book in Lucy Burdette's Key West Food Critic series. Hayley Snow has her hands full when she agrees to bake more than two hundred cupcakes for her friend Connie's wedding while still meeting her writing deadlines. She doesn't really need family drama, but her parents blow into town like a hurricane, and her stepbrother becomes involved in a murder. Feb. 4 release.

From Key West we move to the mountains during a blizzard in M.L. Rowland's Zero-Degree Murder  . It's the first in a new search and rescue mystery series. Grace Kinkaid risks her life on a daily basis to save strangers. But, going up against a cold-hearted murderer is a danger she's not prepared for. A Thanksgiving call that four hikers are missing turns into an attempt to keep one man alive while a killer lurks somewhere in the dark. Jan. 7 release.

Annie Knox' Paws for Murder is also the first in a new series. Izzy McHale wants her new Trendy Tails Pet Boutique in Merryville, Minnesota, to be the height of canine couture and feline fashions. But at the store's opening, it turns out it's a human who's dressed to kill, and it's Izzy's best friend at the top of the suspect list. Jan. 7 release.

Dead Between the Lines is Denise Swanson's latest Devereaux's Dime Store Mystery. In order to keep her new business in the black, Dev Sinclair opens up her shop to local clubs. But, she finds out how seriously readers take their books when the first meeting of the Stepping Out Book Club ends with the speaker storming out. Later that night, the man is found dead outside the store. With the help of her two suitors, Dev sets out to investigate, but she could become the final chapter in the murder mystery. March 4 release.

James Swanson's End of Days is already out. It's a minute-by-minute account of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, told by the author of the New York Times bestseller Manhunt.

Tapestry of Lies by Carol Ann Martin features Della Wright and her weaving studio in Briar Hollow, North Carolina. Della is thrilled when a celebrity designer places a large custom-fabric order for the local millionaire who is announcing his candidacy for governor. But, that announcement is overshadowed by the murder of a local shop owner. And, Della's best friend is one of the suspects. Jan. 7 release.

Victoria Laurie brings her ghost busters home to Boston in The Ghoul Next Door.But, M.J. Holliday and her team agree to help her ex, whose future brother-in-law, Luke, seems to be possessed by a sinister spirit. And, when Luke goes outside in the middle of the night and returns hours later covered in blood, they are all concerned, particularly when the news reports the murder of a young woman in the neighborhood. Jan. 7 release.

The one book on the list today that doesn't involve murder is out of Australia. Life in Half a Second: How to Achieve Success Before It's Too Late. The premise is "Life is short, too short. In the grand scheme of the universe, you only have have a second to live - half a second to pursue your dreams, live fully, and succeed. You don't have a moment to lose."
Matthew Michalewicz is the author of

And, looking at this list of books, none of us have a moment to lose. It's defintely true, "So many books. So little time." Tell me what you're planning to read.