Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie

Deborah Crombie's The Sound of Broken Glass is a haunting story intertwining the past and the present. Her books are always fresh, as she alternates cases between her detectives, Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James. The addition of their personal lives, and the lives of their co-workers, is just one more added pleasure. A perplexing story, a police procedural, and personal stories. Mysteries don't get any better than ones by Deborah Crombie.

Crystal Palace is an area of South London, but it is also the term for The Great Exhibition, a building moved to Crystal Palace Park in 1854, and destroyed by fire in 1936. Crombie's chapter headings tell the history of the building, and the area. And, the story starts there, fifteen years earlier, when a lonely thirteen-year-old boy meets the widow next door. That meeting changes both of their lives, but it ends in tragedy. And, neither of them could have ever predicted the terrible repercussions of that summer.

Fifteen years later, Kincaid is taking his turn on leave to take care of their foster child, Charlotte, while Gemma is back on the job, now heading up a Murder Investigation Team in South London. She and team are called to the site of a brutal murder in Crystal Palace, where a barrister has been found dead in a hotel room, naked, bound, and strangled. But, their search for a killer takes some unexpected turns. When another barrister is killed the same way, they scramble to find a link between the two victims. And, every clue and every suspect sends them back to Crystal Palace.

The Sound of Broken Glass is a complex mystery with unexpected twists. And the personalities add a wonderful depth to the novel. Duncan Kincaid is eager to return to work, but his hands are tied while Charlotte is so needy. So, he finds ways to stay busy, including a few conversations with people involved in Gemma's case. And, Gemma's assistant, Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot, finds herself jeopardizing the investigation. Crombie is a master at tying all the elements, investigations and personal lives, together to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. At the same time, she leaves the reader wanting more, eager for the continuation of the stories of Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James.

Every time I read one of Deborah Crombie's books, I think she can't get any better. Every time, she proves me wrong. The Sound of Broken Glass is the latest in a string of riveting, well-written, meaty novels by a master of the police procedural mystery.

Deborah Crombie's website is

The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie. William Morrow. 2013. ISBN 9780061990632 (hardcover), 359p.

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Reminder Note

As I've said before, I'm grateful for every ARC and book that authors, publishers, and publicists send me. I'm sorry I can't get to every one of them. I do try to mention them all, at one time or another, either here or on my Facebook page.

But, a reminder. I moved to Indiana almost two months ago. If books are being sent by UPS to my Arizona address, you'll be getting them back. UPS does not forward packages, as the mail does. Email me at if you need the new address. I know I tried to give it to many of you.

And, I have been receiving packages, usually from small presses, with postage due. After making four trips to the post office in the last few weeks to get packages, I'm not going to do that anymore. The slip I receive does say who it's from. If that package doesn't come from someone I recognize, I'm not going to make the trip and pay the postage due. I'm sorry. Within a few weeks, you'll be getting it back. I take my packages to the post office, have them weighed, and pay the correct postage. The post office here is not easy for me to get to, so I'm not going to pick up unknown packages and pay postage on them.

I'm sorry this needed to be said, but I did want to acknowledge that there are packages of books being sent that some of you will be getting back.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Guest Review - Bad Blood by Dana Stabenow

When I was on my way to Indiana, a librarian friend in Arizona did a couple guest posts for me. I was able to return the favor by giving her a copy of Dana Stabenow's Bad Blood. In return, Cindy wrote a guest review again. Thank you, Cindy!


    Dana Stabenow is speaking at an Author Luncheon sponsored by the East Mesa Branch of the American Association of University Women on March 9th.  I am on the author relations committee and was very happy to get an early copy of BAD BLOOD.  The committee went to hear Dana at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale in November and Dana alluded to the ending and I have been dying to read the book ever since!  Thanks, Lesa, for putting me out of suspense early!

    BAD BLOOD is the twentieth book in Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak mystery series.  Stabenow does a skillful job of putting this book in the context of the previous nineteen books and very subtly presents the back story by having Kate review events, identify main characters and give details of the setting.  Readers who have not read previous books in the series will be able to understand what is happening.

    BAD BLOOD is a Romeo and Juliet story.  Two neighboring villages in the Park (the fictional setting of the Shugak series) are feuding.  One village is modernized and the other is still very traditional.  The feud leads to murders which Kate’s lover, State Trooper Jim Chopin, has to investigate.  No one in either village wants to talk to him and some even try to disrupt the investigation.  A girl from the traditional village and a boy from the other are caught in the middle.  This is Jim’s investigation but Kate helps as always and gets involved with the young couple's romance.  To a lesser extent another theme of the book is redefining who Kate is.  She spends time thinking about her life and what she wants out of it.  I don't think that Kate's role as head of the tribal council is mentioned at all.

    Several aspects of this book will be very interesting to readers of the series.  It moves away from the environmental and economic concerns raised by the proposed gold mine.  Stabenow brings back a character, Anne Flanagan, from a previous book (I don't remember which one) and I'm guessing Flanagan will be in the next one, too.  And there is definite foreshadowing of another faceoff with Erland Bannister.  It is hard to keep a long running series fresh and I’m guessing part of the reason for this book is to start the series in a new direction. 

     The ending of the book is very intense.  I can't say more without spoiling it, but I guarantee you will react when you get to the last page (do NOT cheat and read it early!)  I can't wait to read the next book.

Dana Stabenow's website is

Bad Blood by Dana Stabenow. St. Martin's Press. 2013. ISBN 9780312550653 (hardcover), 288p.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield

If you know Sophie Littlefield's writing only from her Stella Hardesty mysteries, her novel Garden of Stones will be a surprise. On the other hand, once again, she has written about strong women, survivors who did what they needed to do, and her story has mystery and unexpected twists to it.

In San Francisco in 1978, the owner of a gym is killed. When the police show up to talk to Lucy Takeda, it comes as a shock to her daughter, Patty. However, witnesses described Lucy, and it's hard to mistake the Japanese-American woman with the disfigured face. As Patty struggles to find out why her mother would have killed a strange man, she uncovers secrets of her mother's early life, her teenage years detained in Manzanar.

Lucy Takeda was in eighth grade in Los Angeles in 1941, the happy, privileged daughter of a successful businessman. Her mother, Miyeka, though, was a beautiful quiet woman, sometimes withdrawn, easily upset, and, as her daughter learned later, manic-depressive. Lucy's father coddled them both, but his death on Dec. 7, 1941 spared him the tragic fate that awaited his wife and daughter, and so many other Japanese-Americans, internment in camps.Before they were rounded up, they witnessed  forces that "Broke down doors in the middle of the night, that cut slits in people's sofas looking for evidence of treason, that broke treasured records in half just because the labels bore Japanese words." On March 22, 1942, Lucy and her mother were put on a train and sent to Manzanar.

There were 10,000 people living in Manzanar, and several hundred staff. They lived in terrible conditions with sand coming through cracks in the walls, food that was inedible. And, they lived with terrible conditions in the latrines, where all their privacy and modesty were taken from them. Lucy found friendship with a boy named Jesse, her first boyfriend, but it wasn't long before the corruption in the camp invaded every corner of her life, from her job delivering mail, to her relationship with Jesse, to her mother. And, it was watching what that life that did to her mother that changed Lucy. Lucy grew to resemble her beautiful mother, Miyeka, but in that internment camps, beauty could be a curse. Despite her own weakness, Miyeka was willing to give up everything to save her daughter, to keep her from sharing her fate.

There were some secrets from Lucy's life that her daughter, Patty, would never know. Patty might use the story of Manzanar to try to keep her mother from being arrested for murder, but she'd never know the truth. Littlefield skillfully weaves the story of Lucy's early life with Patty's search for answers. But, she'd never know what her mother knew and did. She would never really know her mother.  "How lonely it was to be a keeper of secrets."

Littlefield's Garden of Stones is a powerful look at a disgraceful time in American history. Lucy's story might be fiction, but it makes it all the more powerful. Read Garden of Stones in conjunction with Sandra Dallas' Tallgrass. Or, even in conjunction with nonfiction books such as Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Sophie Littlefield shines a light on the cruelty and suffering that happened right here in the United States. But, her novel is so much bigger, as a story of women doing what they must to survive.

Garden of Stones is a remarkable novel, telling two stories that are often forgotten, Manzanar, and the story of women. I can't recommend it highly enough as a selection for book groups. And, I can't recommend it highly enough for anyone wanting a story about strong women overcoming the worst that life can throw at them.

Sophie Littlefield's website is

Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield. Harlequin. 2013. ISBN 9780778313526 (paperback), 320p.

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

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Whimsey by Kaye Wilkinson Barley

Sometimes, I break my own rules, and then I'm mad afterward. I've said I won't review self-published or ebooks, and I only occasionally make an exception. Now, when I really enjoyed Kaye Wilkinson Barley's debut novel, Whimsey, I can't share it with some of the people who would enjoy it the most, my family. None of them have a Kindle or a device to read it. Whimsey is fun, lively, and sparkles with artists, humor and romance. It's southern humor and southern women at their best.

(And, the other thing I don't like about ebooks? I can't go back and check the spelling of a name when I'm not sure what I wrote. So, if a character's name is spelled wrong, blame it on the format.)

Whimsey is a small island, an artist's colony off the coast of Georgia. And, it's been home to Emma Hamilton Foley's family since her Great Aunt Elizabeth had the inspiration and the money to buy it in 1949. And, she packed up Emma's grandparents, two budding artists, and took them with her. But, Emma left the island for college in Savannah with her four best friends. Now, Emma's aunt, Zoe Hamilton, is opening a gallery, Les étoiles, planning to showcase local artists. Emma's friends may all be returning to Whimsey, but she can't face it. The once-promising jewelry designer left the love of her life there, married another man, and found her life off island was a mistake. Now, she can't admit to anyone that her art has deserted her.

Sooner or later, though, a yearning for family and home will draw Emma back to Whimsey, where she has to face her demons, her reasons for leaving, and her uncertainly about the Whimsey magic. For Whimsey has a magic that brings out the creativity in its artists. And, it's a place where community and family are important.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley has been an online friend for a number of years now. It's easy to recognize Kaye's love of life in the pure joy that comes through when family and friends get together in Whimsey. And, there are recognizable traces of her life in Fred, the Corgi, Sissyfriss Sockmonkey, and the love of red in the book. If I knew Kaye better, I'm sure there are other pieces I would recognize. And, I can certainly picture her as one of "The Wicked Women of Whimsey".

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 Allan. It's a charming book, filled with laughter.

So, two personal notes. I'm not going to change my policy. I normally will not review ebooks. It's too difficult to do, knowing some of my favorite readers won't get a chance to read the book. The other, note, though, is for Kaye. Kaye, I'm glad you found your crimson, and held on tight.

OK - Follow-up - Kaye said Whimsey is available in print from Amazon right now, and in 6-8 weeks, should be available in bookstores, through Ingram. So, in a few months, request that your favorite public library buy it, and they might be able to get it.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley blogs at

Whimsey by Kaye Wilkinson Barley. 2013.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author gave me a copy, hoping I would review it.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chance of a Ghost by E.J. Copperman

The premise of E.J. Copperman's Haunted Guesthouse mysteries is a little odd. Let's take a down-to-earth divorced woman with a ten-year-old daughter, give her a guesthouse at the Jersey Shore, and add two ghosts. It's almost too much for a leveled-headed woman to deal with. It takes an accident for Alison Kerby to see her resident ghosts, Paul and Maxie. But, it shocks her even more when she discovers her daughter, Melissa, and her mother can see the ghosts. Alison needs Paul and Maxie, though, and, in return, she earned her private investigator's license, and allows Paul to help her with cases. It's an uneasy partnership, but it becomes very personal in the latest book, Chance of a Ghost.

Alison is very handy at woodworking, plumbing, and anything having to do with house renovation, thanks to her father. And, ever since her father's death five years earlier, she's had disturbing dreams when he's within reach but disappears when she runs an errand. Since she can communicate and see ghosts, she's been trying to reach her father, with no avail. When her mother reveals that she's been seeing Alison's father since shortly after his death, Alison is angry. Why hasn't her father appeared to her or Melissa? But, when Alison's mother insists something is wrong, and her father disappeared, she wants her daughter to find him. In order to do so, she'll have to find a ghost's killer. Lawrence Laurentz swears he didn't die of a heart attack. Someone threw a toaster into his bathtub. And, he claims he can bring Alison's father back, but only if she finds out who killed Laurentz.

Convoluted? Yes. Alison questions it herself. "Was I going to tell them that one of the household ghosts had been annoying me with his insistence that we investigate the death of a man in a bathtub so I could find my deceased father, who was apparently being held against his will in some sort of bizarre posthumous blackmail scheme?" At the same time, this story is funny. The ghost of Maxie is always good for laughs. In this story, set in New Jersey as they prepare for a blizzard, the snow plow driver is a fun character. And, Copperman adds two guests as characters who fit perfectly into Alison's second job as a private investigator. In this case, though, it's also a poignant story.. What is more touching than a daughter trying to find her missing father?

In Copperman's hands, these elements all fit together beautifully. Once you accept the ghosts, it's easy to fall into the story of a woman trying to find her father while helping a dead man find a killer. Alison Kerby is a down-to-earth woman caught up in a world of ghosts that even she has a hard time accepting. And, she doesn't always handle her situation gracefully. She struggles to juggle her life as the owner of a guesthouse with the fumbling stories she has to tell as a private investigator working with, and often for ghosts. Alison's conversations with the ghosts are some of the funniest scenes in the book.

Yes, Copperman's books have an unusual premise. However, in Chance of a Ghost, as in his previous mysteries, he succeeds in sweeping the reader into Alison Kerby's world. Alison is an unwilling sleuth, trying to take care of the people she loves, her daughter and her mother. It's a frustrating world of fumbling investigation for an amateur sleuth. It's also an enjoyable escape for any reader wanting to laugh and sympathize with a woman who succeeds by working with unreliable ghosts.

E.J. Copperman's website is

Chance of a Ghost by E.J. Copperman. Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425251683 (paperback), 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, February 22, 2013

Rebecca Cantrell's Note

I met Rebecca Cantrell as the author of the award-winning Hannah Vogel series. Hannah Vogel is a reporter in 1930s Berlin, Germany. The first in the historical thriller series, A Trace of Smoke, won the Bruce Alexander and Macavity Awards for Best Historical mystery. Now, the fourth one, A City of Broken Glass, is up for the Bruce Alexander Award again, as well as the Mary Higgins Clark Award. But, Rebecca has also collaborated with James Rollins on The Order of the Sanguines series. The first book, The Blood Gospel, was released in January. And, this multi-talented author writes young adult horror stories under the name Bekka Black.

A City of Broken Glass was a powerful novel. I reviewed it last July. And, if you ever have the chance to hear Rebecca speak, you'll be impressed with her vast knowledge of Nazi Germany, the setting for her series.

However, if you ever have the chance to go to eat with her, prepare to die laughing. I've been to dinner with her in Tucson following the Tucson Festival of Books, laughed with her at Left Coast Crime, and I love her sense of humor. But, I don't know if I ever laughed so much as the night we went for ice cream at the Sugar Bowl in Scottsdale. Rebecca and I agreed we'd have to meet there and try all the ice cream on the menu. Then, she moved to Germany, and I moved to Indiana. Someday, we'll get together again for ice cream.

So, there's a little background so you'll understand the note from this versatile author. Thank you, Becky.

From Rebecca Cantrell/Bekka Black


Have fun on your new adventure! I know that you will bring your love of books and mysteries to all of those new and lucky library patrons. You will be missed in Tucson, but this does open up many interesting conference ice cream quests for us in the future...

See you around in the mystery world!

Becky (aka Rebecca Cantrell and Bekka Black)"

Rebecca Cantrell's website is

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Perfect Hatred by Leighton Gage

Leighton Gage's Chief Inspector Mario Silva police procedurals have everything; dirty politics, corruption at every level of the government and the police force, terrorism. The rich just get richer by any means from bribery to murder. That's Mario Silva's world in Brazil, where he and his team of Federal Police do their best to bring about justice. In Perfect Hatred, that team has to deal with two terrible crimes, not knowing their own lives are in danger.

When a terrorist explodes a suicide bomb in front of the American embassy, killing sixty-seven, Silva and his entire team turn out to try to identify the killer and find the reason behind the mass murder of women and children. But, before he can even get his teeth into the case, the Minister of Justice pulls strings and sends Silva to Parana, where a political candidate was assassinated in front of over 250 thousand people. Silva's angry that he was pulled from the more pressing case, but he's even angrier when the politician's bodyguard is murdered just before Silva reaches him.

Silva is forced to work both cases, but he considers the act of a terrorism a bigger threat, particularly after another bomb goes off in Argentina, a bomb made of the same components as the one in Brazil. So, he works closely with his team, with no idea that a psychopath has Silva himself as a target, the incorruptible cop who testified against him and is sending him to prison.

Gage's Brazilian mysteries are not for every reader. The stories are complex, with a number of characters and a couple storylines. They're gritty, violent, and realistic, spotlighting the crime and corruption in Brazil and neighboring countries in South America. Crime investigation in South America is not easy when the police themselves are often the target.

Leighton Gage has his finger on the pulse of Brazil in the same way Jeffrey Siger does for Greece. Both authors are masters of the contemporary gritty story focusing on today's issues in troubled countries. Each of Gage's books has targeted issues in Brazil. And, this one, with its focus on terrorism, is probably the scariest of all. In fact, there's less black humor in this book than in previous ones in the series. Perfect Hatred is a contemporary story dealing with issues that are critical in the world today. Too many details would spoil the plot. But, as with the best police procedurals, when the story is wrapped up, justice has been served. And, Leighton Gage's Mario Silva investigations are some of the best contemporary police procedurals out there.

Leighton Gage's website is, and he blogs with six other writers at

Perfect Hatred by Leighton Gage. Soho Press. 2013. ISBN 9781616951764 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New Arrivals

Time for a few new arrivals, including a reprinted favorite. These all arrived in my mailbox in the last week.

Laura Childs' latest Tea Shop mystery, Sweet Tea Revenge finds Indigo Tea Shop owner Theodosia Browning comforting a bride on her wedding day.  There's a storm brewing over Charleston. The bride's sister is late for the wedding. And, it seems a murderer crashed the wedding, leaving behind the body of the groom. Publication date is March 5.

As the back cover of Death in Blue Folders says, before award-winning mystery novelist Margaret Maron worte about Judge Deborah Knott, she wrote about Lt. Sigrid Harald, a homicide detective with the NYPD. Fortunately, Oconee Spirit Press has brought back the series. Death in Blue Folders is the third book. Attorney Clayton Gladwell's retirement is abruptly canceled when he's shot. It could be that someone feared exposure since he kept "special" cases in blue folders. Now, Lt. Harald must figure out who hated or feared him.

Kris Neri's Tracy Eaton series always features an eccentric cast in fun capers. Now, in Revenge on Route 66, Tracy and her dad, aging Hollywood hunk, Alec Grainger, find their adventures turning deadly on that beloved road. One of their regular stops on Route 66 was Lucy Crier's Lunch Pail Cafe in Tecos, New Mexico, but not since Lucy killed her ex-boyfriend and ended up in prison. So, why is she seen dodging traffic along Route 66? The adventure turns stranger when Lucy's son turns up dead, and the FBI calls Tracy one of America's Most Wanted. Tracy's escapades could end on Route 66. March 30 is release date.

And, the last book marks the launch of a new series, A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die by Edith Maxwell. In the first in the Local Foods mysteries, Edith Maxwell draws on her own experience as a certified organic farmer to intorduce novice farmer Cameron Flaherty. She hopes to make a killing selling organic produce in Millsbury, Massachusetts, but when a killer strikes on her property, the farm might yield a bumper crop of locally sourced murder. Release date is June.

Four interesting mysteries this week. I hope they're now on your radar.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Eleven Little Piggies by Elizabeth Gunn

Sometimes nothing is as satisfying as a good police procedural. And, Elizabeth Gunn's latest Jake Hines mystery, Eleven Little Piggies, manages to hit all the right notes. It's contemporary with a strong cast of characters, an interesting crime, and the police have personal lives that are important to the series. I've been a big fan of this series since the first book, Triple Play. This new book is just as intriguing as the first one was.

Jake Hines is Chief of Detectives in Rutherford, Minnesota. On his day off in November, he and a buddy went bird hunting. Just as they were packing up, the man who rented the land indicated he needed help. A couple other hunters had found a dead man, but he wasn't a hunter, and shouldn't have been shot by hunters where they found him. Which was true. Owen Kester was a farmer from a prominent family that had farmed there for four generations. His death would stir up one of the biggest hornets' nests the department had ever seen.

When Jake and his team dug into Owen's lfe, they found a large contentious family arguing over the sale of farmland to sand miners who offered millions for the land they needed for fracking. And, when Owen said the family would sell that land over his dead body, someone took him seriously. But, even with Owen gone, the Kester family can't escape more accidents and a couple more murders.

As always in this series, Jake and his department work smoothly together, despite a lack of funding and a lack of adequate staff. And, Gunn capably brings that team to life, with all their quirks and background. Jake, once a foster child with no knowledge of his parentage, is a husband and father. Gunn brings her detectives to life, including Jake, by including details of their personal lives.

I find police procedurals satisfying with the reappearance of familiar characters in the police department, the methodical investigation of crimes, and the wrap-up with justice triumphing. Eleven Little Piggies, and Gunn's other books in the Jake Hines mystery series, fit this satisfying mold perfectly.

Elizabeth Gunn's website is

Eleven Little Piggies by Elizabeth Gunn. Severn House. 2012. ISBN 9780727882363 (hardcover), 185p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, February 18, 2013

I Funny by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Middle school readers won't pick up I Funny because of James Patterson's name on the front of it. I picked it up because it said, "and Chris Grabenstein", who is one of my favorite authors. The targeted audience, though, might pick it up because of the kid with the fake mustache, big nose, and glasses. Cartoonist and illustrator Laura Park is responsible for all the numerous illustrations in the book. The three produced a fun book, with a message about humor, bullies, and hope.

Jamie Grimm has one joke after another. He tells him to his two best friends. He tells them at his Uncle Frankie's diner and the customers love them. And, he tries them on the school bully, Stevie Kosgrov, They don't work on Stevie, who is also Jamie's cousin. Unfortunately, Jamie also lives with the Kosgrovs following the accident that left him in a wheelchair. But, Jamie doesn't want to talk about that. He wants to tell jokes and make people laugh.

That's how he ended up competing in the local competition for the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic Contest. His uncle suggested he try out. But, after Jamie forgot the end of his speech about Mt. Everest in school, he was afraid he'd never remember the punchlines of his jokes. It takes courage to get up in front of a room of strangers, hoping they'll ignore the wheelchair and just listen to the jokes. And, it takes a lot to remember the punch lines in front of that room of strangers.

Patterson, Grabenstein and Park have joined together for a joke-filled story about a middle school boy suffering from so many of the pains of growing up. There are subtle messages here for readers, but they're provided with humor - messages of hope, friendship, anti-bullying, and overcoming obstacles. It's a fun book for the target audience, filled with terrific jokes and cartoons. But, most important, middle school readers should find I Funny to be funny.

I Funny by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein. Little, Brown & Company. 2012. ISBN 9780316206938 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hidden America by Jeanne Marie Laskas

It's so easy to flip on a light, never thinking about the coal needed for electricity. Most of us don't think about the people who pick the fruit and vegetables we pick up in the grocery store. And, we get on planes every day without worrying about the people in the control towers guiding the planes. Jeanne Marie Laskas was curious about the people behind our lives. Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make the County Work is the fascinating book that is the result of her curiosity.

Laskas went coast to coast to spend time with, and sometimes work side by side with, the people who work behind the scenes to provide us with our lifestyles. She takes us into a coal mine in Cadiz, Ohio. We meet the women paid only $75 a week to be Ben-Gals, the cheerleaders for the Cincinnati Bengals. Laskas can't understand the gun culture in Arizona, the salespeople and customers at Sprague's Sports in Yuma. However, she takes us inside the store, and introduces readers to nine different industries that affect our daily lives.

If this book was just about those businesses, it would be a dull treatise. But, Laskas tells these stories by introducing us to the people and bringing them to life. Some of those cheerleaders who spend hours rehearsing and prepping to be gorgeous have master's degrees or jobs in cancer research. She puts faces to the migrant workers picking blueberries in Maine, introducing us to Urbano, a loving father working to save a house he could lose because he returned to Mexico for his own father's funeral. And, if anything in the book will scare someone who flies frequently, read the chapter about air traffic controllers at LaGuardia. There are people working in landfills, driving trucks, and raising and herding cattle, people we never think about.

Jeanne Marie Laskas asks us to look at these people. "Who are the people who pick our vegetables, grow our beef, haul our stuff to the marketplace, make our trash disappear?" Laskas' Hidden America is a worthy successor to books such as Studs Terkel's remarkable Working. She truly brings the people behind these jobs to life. I wanted to know what happened to Urbano, the migrant worker and caring father. I wanted to follow up on others in the book. What happened to them? This excellent behind-the-scenes book accomplishes Laskas' goal if it makes the reader think about the people in Hidden America. "These are the people who keep America alive and ticking. The people who, were they to walk off the job tomorrow, would bring life as we know it to a halt."

Laskas' website is

Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work by Jeanne Marie Laskas. G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2012. ISBN 9780399139008 (hardcover), 318p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library Book

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Donis Casey's Note

Earlier this week, I posted information about Poisoned Pen Press' contest for a new author. It seemed topical because of the discussion about Poisoned Pen Press' authors on DorothyL. Donis Casey writes one of my favorite series that they publish. The series features Alafair Tucker, a ranch wife and mother of a large family in Oklahoma in the early 1900s. Although they are mysteries, Donis based some of the characters on her own ancestors.

Wrong Hill to Die On is the latest in the series. In that one, Alafair and her husband, Shaw, take their daughter, Blanche, to Arizona, hoping the dry climate will help her with a lung ailment. They're staying with Alafair's sister in Tempe, but things are in turmoil there. Her sister's marriage has fallen apart, and Alafair suspects her sister may be involved in something dangerous. Then, Alafair finds a body in a ditch, a murder victim.

My sister and I love this series, but I have to admit with the move I'm behind in reading everything, including this book. I brought my copy of Wrong Hill to Die On with me though, and I will read it.

Donis Casey is another author who appeared regularly at Velma Teague. I can't thank her enough for appearing there, and for her comments in my gift book. Here is Donis' note.

"Lesa, I know you'll be just as loved and appreciated in Evansville as you are here in Arizona, and I hope you love your new job. But I don't know what we're going to do without you.

Hugs, Donis"

And, Donis? I miss seeing you and everyone else at the  Poisoned Pen Bookstore.

Donis Casey's website is

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Note from Avery Aames & Daryl Wood Gerber

It's no secret in the mystery community that Avery Aames and Daryl Wood Gerber are the same person. I've "known" Avery for quite a while, first through the book blog, Mystery Lovers Kitchen, where she blogs with some of my other favorite authors who write food-related mysteries. We've caught up with each other at conferences, and she appeared for Authors @ The Teague. And, now she's about to have two food-related mystery series, one under each name.

Avery's latest mystery in the Cheese Shop series is To Brie or Not to Brie. These mysteries are set in Ohio's Holmes County, in Amish Country. In this fourth book in the series, Charlotte Bessette, owner of Fromagerie Bessette, known as the Cheese Shop, is juggling a date, feeding actors in her grandmother's staging of Hamlet, and preparing for her best friend's wedding. Then, of course, there's that murder she wants to investigate since a container of her Brie blueberry ice cream was the murder weapon.

To Brie or Not to Brie just came out this month, but in July, Avery launches her new series under the name Daryl Wood Gerber. The first in the new Cookbook Nook series is Final Sentence. Daryl will introduce Jenna Hart, an avid reader, foodie, and owner of a cookbook store. As Avery Aames, she won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for The Long Quiche Goodbye. I wish her good luck as Daryl!

Both of these authors wrote a note in my gift book. Here's what it says.

"Dear Lesa,

You are an inspiration. Your love of books, your love of mystery, has infused me with a desire to read so many different authors and titles. I love your passion and wish you such a wonderful new chapter in your amazing story. May your life be filled with mystery, magic, and love.

All my best,

Avery who some like to call Daryl"

Thank you, Avery AND Daryl!

Avery Aames' website is

Daryl Wood Gerber's website is

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Poisoned Pen Press

This past week, there's been a great deal of discussion on DorothyL, the mystery listserv, about Poisoned Pen Press, and the quality of mysteries that come from that publisher. Someone who raved about Jeffrey Siger's books wanted to know who else was published by Poisoned Pen. The list is lengthy, so I'm going to miss some, but it includes Vicki Delany, Betty Webb, Donis Casey, Frederick Ramsey, K.J. Larsen, Mary Anna Evans, Triss Stein, Kerry Greenwood, Steven Havill, James Sallis. Yesterday, Poisoned Pen Press announced their new contest, with the possibility that someone could become their latest published author.

Poisoned Pen Press invites aspiring mystery novelists to write, win, publish:
Poisoned Pen Press Now Accepting Submissions for the Second Annual Discover Mystery Award;
will award a $1000 cash prize and publishing contract to this year’s winner

Scottsdale, Arizona– Poisoned Pen Press is now accepting entries for its second annual Discover Mystery Award. A first book contest specifically for unpublished writers trying to break into the mystery genre, the Discover Mystery Award will include a $1000 cash prize, the Discover Mystery title, and a publishing contract from Poisoned Pen Press.

Writers unpublished within the mystery genre are invited to submit their original mystery fiction manuscripts of between 60,000 and 90,000 words. Entries must be received by 11:59 PM Pacific on March 30, 2013. The Discover Mystery Award will be announced on May 31, 2013.

A $20 entry fee applies for all submissions. For full details, eligibility requirements, and manuscript submission instructions, visit:

Entries submitted for the Discover Mystery Award will be judged by members of the Poisoned Pen Press editorial staff, along with an as-yet-to-be-named celebrity guest judge.

Poisoned Pen Press published Ronald Sharp’s No Regrets, No Remorse, the winner of 2012 Discover Mystery Award, in November.

Jessica Tribble, Publisher at Poisoned Pen Press, stated, “ Poisoned Pen Press is always looking to discover something new, which is why we launched the Discover Mystery Award last year.  We were overwhelmed both by the volume and quality of submissions we received. While the competition was stiff, we were thrilled to publish No Regrets, No Remorse by Ronald Sharp, the winner of the first annual Discover Mystery Award. And now we are looking for the next winner.  We can’t wait to see what we discover.”

In addition to the grand prizes, Poisoned Pen Press will also provide support in publicizing the winning work, and sharing information with prominent booksellers. However, should no entry meet the standards of the editorial team, Poisoned Pen Press reserves the right not to declare a winner, or to offer the cash prize without publication.

Found in 1997, Poisoned Pen Press is an independent publisher specializing in the highest quality mystery books. Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Poisoned Pen Press is one of the largest publishers of hardcover mysteries in the world.  Visit the new Poisoned Pen Press author blog and Discover Mystery™ at:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Long Way Home by Mariah Stewart

Readers who think of Mariah Stewart as "just" writing romance novels are so wrong, Her Chesapeake Diaries do have romances, and her latest, The Long Way Home, is no exception. But, the books are so much more. They're the story of a small resort town, St. Dennis, Maryland, and the people who live there. Stewart's books are about relationships, friendships, and the history of a community. They're about the long-standing relationships that make a community, and the newcomers who add to the life of the town. Oh, yes, and there's always a romance.

Ellis Chapman changed her name to Ellie Ryder when she moved to St. Dennis to renovate the house her mother left her. Her father had plastered the family name across national headlines when he was arrested for swindling investors out of billions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme. Ellie was an innocent victim, caught up in it just as much as anyone else, but most of her friends turned their back on her. With only her mother's house, she's desperate to renovate it, and, once she's lived there for the required six months, to sell it for a profit, money she needed to live. Despite the curiosity of the townspeople, Ellie was afraid to tell the truth about her family.

Cameron O'Connor, a local contractor, is one of the people curious about the house's new owner. He would have loved to have bought the house because he has a memorable past with Ellie's great-aunt and uncle, the people who owned the house before Ellie's mother. And, he might not know about her past, but he has stories he isn't telling either.

As Ellie works on the house, she uncovers family stories and secrets that she never knew, and learns about the mother she thought she knew. Mariah Stewart always brings out her characters' past secrets as their lives unfold and the people change once they find a home in St. Dennis. The Long Way Home is the sixth book in the series, and the title reveals as much about the series itself as it does about the book. Each of these novels involve characters who find themselves and a home, a shelter from the life they led. At the same time, these books are about looking to the future with hope, and anticipation of new life and love.

Although the female character, in this case, Ellie, is the main protagonist, readers always see the story from the male character's viewpoint as well. However, the characters and the town of St. Dennis are held together by Grace Sinclair, the owner of the town newspaper. Grace begins the books with her diary entry, comments in the course of the story, and wraps it up. She ties together the life and history of St. Dennis, bringing the books' characters, and the series back together.

Once again, Mariah Stewart brings us a story of St. Dennis, a story with a couple twists, wonderful characters, and a town that welcomes readers as well as characters. Oh, and, of course The Long Way Home has a romance as well.

One lucky reader can win a copy of The Long Way Home. Email me at Your email should read, "Win The Long Way Home." Please include your name and mailing address in the email. This contest will only run until noon Central Time on Saturday, Feb. 16. The publicist for TLC Book Tours will send the winner a copy of the book.

Note - The winner of the giveaway was Judith L. of Claremont, CA. She'll receive her book shortly from the publicist.

Mariah Stewart's website is, and she can be found on Facebook at

The Long Way Home by Mariah Stewart. Ballantine Books. 2013. ISBN 9780345538413 (paperback), 426p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book in order to participate in the TLC Book Tour.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Arrivals

Where to start with the books that arrived last week? I have books in this pile from some of the authors that are on my "favorite author" list. Thank you to the authors and a few publishers who sent these books. I can't wait to read and discuss them!

The Sound of Broken Glass is the latest from Deborah Crombie. Fifteen years before the start of the book, a thirteen-year-old boy in Crystal Palace meets his neighbor, a widowed teacher. Their friendship is shattered by an act of betrayal. In the present time, Detective Inspector Gemma James' first case after a leave of absence is a crime scene at a seedy hotel in Crystal Palace. The victim is a young barrister who undoubtedly had a companion. The search leads the team to question their own world and the people they trust.

Hillerman prize winner Tricia Fields takes readers back to the bordertown of Artemis, Texas in Scratchgravel Road. When Josie Grey, police chief of Artemis, finds Cassidy Harper nearly dead of heatstroke beside the body of a Mexican immigrant, the woman can't explain why she's there, or how she came upon the corpse. When Josie examines the man's wounds, she knows she needs to find answers fast, before her own life is in danger.

I have two juvenile novels from Chris Grabenstein. Last year, he joined forces with James Patterson to write I Funny, a middle school story of a boy determined to win the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic Contest. That should be a fun book. But, I'm really looking forward to Excape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library, Chris' book that comes out June 25. Kyle Kelly is thrilled to learn the world's most famous game-maker has designed the town's new library, and there's an invitation-only lock-in the first night. Kyle might get in, but it's not so easy to get out of the library in this puzzler.

First, I have to reveal that Beth Hoffman is a friend, although I didn't know her when I fell in love with her debut novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. And, I love the cover of her forthcoming book, Looking for Me. This novel of "Family, hope, loss, and antiques" takes Teddi Overman home. Teddi's life's passion is furniture, discovered when she found a broken-down chair on the side of the road in rural Kentucky. She grew up to open her own shop in Charleston after learning to turn castoffs into beautifully restored antiques. But, the mystery of her brother Josh's disappearance has always haunted her. And, when signs indicate Josh might still be alive, Teddi is drawn home to find him.

Sophie Littlefield went to college in Indiana. That's not why I suggested her as the guest speaker for Maricopa County's Back to the Beach program this year. Her forthcoming book, Garden of Stones, has a fascinating premise. It's the story of a fourteen-year-old girl, Lucy Takeda, who is ripped from her Los Angeles home, and sent to the Manzanar prison cmap, along with her mother, and thousands of other innocent Japanese-Americans in the days following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The living conditions are harsh, but it's the abuse and corruption that finally break Lucy's mother, who sacrifices everything to save her daughter. It's an act that stays with her daughter, and haunts her life.

Crossbones Yard is a debut psychological thriller by Kate Rhodes. Psychologist Alice Quentin is well-respected, has a good-looking boyfriend, and her hands full with her job, her personal life, and trying to keep her brother out of trouble. But, she agrees to help the police build a psychological profile of a killer whose methods resemble that of a duo who were sent to jail for torturing and killing thirteen women. Then her research indicates that the killer might be closer than she ever imagined.

I'm certainly lucky to have this collection of books arrive in my mailbox this past week!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Laura Hillenbrand's two books, Seabiscuit and Unbroken, were both nonfiction bestsellers, filled with detail and excitement. When readers ask for nonfiction books that read like fiction, they mean fast-paced stories that are hard to put down. Hillenbrand is a master at writing those books. Saying that, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, is also a difficult book to read, filled with man's inhumanity to man.

Unbroken is the story of Louie Zamparini, an Olympic runner, and one of the greatest runners of the world, whose career was cut short by World War II. However, Hillenbrand starts with Zamparini's story, growing up in Torrance, California, where he would have ended up in jail someday if it hadn't been for his older brother, Pete. Louie was a thief, a troublemaker, notorious in town. But, Pete recognized his ability to run, and encouraged him to go out for track in high school. And, that ability to run carried him into track meets, the Olympics, and history. And, his natural optimism carried him through the darkest days of war in the Pacific. "Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him."

Zamparini would need every bit of that optimism as he became an Army Air Forces bombardier, saw one plane shot up, and survived the crash of a second one, only to be captured by the Japanese. The story of those years as a prisoner of war contain brutal details of the struggle for survival as they were abused and deprived of food, water, and dignity. And, as men returned home from the war, their struggle for survival continued. Louie Zamparini's downfall mirrored so many others. He's a symbol for all the men who came home, destroyed by what they had experienced. In Louie's case, he also found a way to recover and move on.

Hillenbrand once again captures a time period and a piece of history, telling the story of one man. Unbroken focuses on one man, but it reveals how many young men were torn from their lives, and saw their world turned upside down. It's a powerful story of survival under the worst possible conditions.

(On a personal note, while traveling from Arizona to Indiana with my mother, we read my uncle's account of his service years in World War II. Only eighteen when he went in, he never saw active combat, although he was sent to Japan after the surrender. He made the comment that he and the other young men who never saw combat regretted they never had the chance to do their part. After reading Unbroken, every family member who read Uncle Bud's account should be glad he never was sent into war.)

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. Random House. 2010. 486p.

Laura Hillenbrand's website is

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought the book to read for a book club.