Thursday, May 30, 2013

New York City, 1st Day, 2013

Terrific first whole day in NYC. I headed out before 7 a.m. to walk from the hotel to Junior's for breakfast. I think I ate two breakfasts and cheesecake at Junior's the last time I was here with Anna. Junior's is famous for its cheesecake, but not at 7 a.m.

Since I was really early, I had time to take some pictures, first of posters for the two musicals I'm seeing this week. I'm going to Once on Thursday and Pippin on Friday.

And, a theater district sign.

Then, just some Times Square signs. I'm addicted to Times Square. I love the lights, the crowds, the energy.

From Times Square, I walked toward the McGraw-Hill building, where the LJ Day of Dialog was to be held.

Radio City Music Hall is close by. Three trips to NYC, and I haven't made it there yet. Of course, there are lots of places I haven't seen here yet.  Someday!

Two great things about the Library Journal Day of Dialog, hearing the panel, "Editor's Picks", and catching up with friends. I ran into Susan Hayes, who I worked with in Lee County. She's now in Georgia. Hugs with Robin Beerbower from Salem, Oregon and Talia Sherer from Macmillan. Stephanie Chase is now with Seattle Public Library, and she's one of the moderators of tomorrow's AAP Librarians' Luncheon. I finally met @HartGami from GalleyChat and Twitter, who is actually Janet Lockhart. And, I talked with a couple library reps I correspond with from Penguin and HarperCollins.

The Editors' Picks was a panel of five representatives from publishing houses who talked about their key titles. Here are two. Jonathan Burnham from HarperCollins picked Mitch Albom's novel, The First Phone Call from Heaven, due out in November. And, Pamela Dorman, Pamela Dorman, Books from Penguin Group (USA) highlighted Beth Hoffman's Looking for Me, which came out on Tuesday.

I headed over to the Javits Center to pick up my registration packet and listen to the BEA keynote address. After walking around to get my bearings again, I ran into Maryellen Woodside and Sally Bissell, two of my favorite librarians from Lee County. We already had plans to go to dinner last night at the Library Hotel, but we took time to catch up. Then, I went to my program, and they returned to their sessions.

Before I left the Javits Center, though, I took pictures of two of the banners hanging over the entrance to the exhibition hall, banners for featured fall books.

Headed back to the hotel, so I could download pictures, work on the blog, and rest for a little before going out tonight. I did take time to do one thing, though, that I hadn't yet done in NYC. I found a cart, and bought a pretzel from a vendor. I hadn't yet had a NYC pretzel. (Didn't eat much, just wanted to try it, but it was cheaper than the bottled water from the Javits Center. The water was $3. 50.)

Ended the day at the Library Hotel's restaurant, Madison and Vine, with some of my favorite Lee County librarians. It has been nine years since I saw Maryellen Woodside and Sally Bissell. I loved working with them on Readers' Advisory, and on the Authors' Committee for the Lee County Reading Festival. Let's face it. They always were as excited about books and authors as I am. I felt as if it was yesterday that I saw them last. When I left, and they cut back on their role in the festival, Jessica Girlando took over. We had some good years together, and 3 1/2 hours of dinner and chocolate martinis last night. Very special friends.

With Sally Bissell and Maryellen Woodside

Jessica Girlando, Sally Bissell, Me, Maryellen Woodside

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New York City - Hotel Yotel

I'm in New York City for Book Expo America, BEA, the publishing trade show. I flew in yesterday, and I'm staying at the Hotel Yotel. It's a cute boutique hotel. You check in with a touch screen in the hotel, feed it the credit card. The rooms are small, as so many rooms in NYC are, but my room is as cute as can be. But, they call them cabins, because they're very compact, as a ship cabin.

The bed is compact, so there's room to walk around, but you press a button, and it extends to full length.

The rooms have signs that look like cabin numbers. (This is NOT my room number. - smile)

And, my favorite part is actually the sign to hang on the door when you're ready for cleaning. Love this!

So, I arrived at the hotel about 6, took a few pictures, and then took off for Broadway. My hotel is within walking distance, which is where I like to be. I went to see The Trip to Bountiful last night with Cicely Tyson, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Vanessa Williams,  Tom Wopat and Condola Rashad. Terrific cast, and a terrific play. Everyone was good, but Cicely Tyson owned that stage.

I don't know how much I'll have time to write this week. Full day tomorrow, and I'm catching up with librarian friends from Florida who I haven't seen in 9 years. If there's nothing here on Thursday, I promise I'll catch you up soon!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Interview with Beth Hoffman, author of Looking for Me

Today is release day for Beth Hoffman's Looking for Me. If you have the chance to see her while she's on book tour, you might want to grab it. Beth is gracious, and you'll want to hear her talk about this book. I do have an interview to share with you today, though, in case you don't get the chance to see her in person. And, everyone who entered the earlier contest to win a copy of Looking for Me might want to read to the end of this post, and try again.

1.) After the success of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, how did you come up with the idea for LOOKING FOR ME?

When I finished touring with CeeCee, I had no idea what I would write. The characters had become so real to me that I felt guilty abandoning them to craft a different story. I especially had a hard time not continuing on with Oletta. For several months I shut down all thoughts about writing.

One day I sat at my desk and began going through stacks of old photographs. The more I sorted, the more I thought about my family and my childhood on the farm—how simple and uncomplicated life was, how much I missed the big old barn and the woodlands that backed up to the fields. I stared out the window and spent a good deal of time reliving those days, and while I was caught up in the nostalgia, something flashed in my periphery. I turned to see a red-tailed hawk land on a tree branch. I watched the morning light glaze across his pale chest, and how, just before he settled, he spread his rusty-red tail feathers to reveal the full spectrum of his regalia. I got a bit teary at the beauty of him, and then …WHAM! I had the beginning of my story.

2.) You always write so beautifully about your novels’ settings, making the reader feel like they’re being transported to another place. With LOOKING FOR ME, did you decide on the location of the novel—Charleston—first, or did that come later? Did you spend a lot of time there?

I write about places I love, places to which I feel a deep connection. I wanted would write about a farm family, and when the character of Teddi took form and she fell in love with the process of antique restoration, I knew Charleston was where she would ultimately end up. I’ve spent a great deal of time in Charleston and feel incredibly comfortable there. In many ways it’s like a second home to me. Plus, with Charleston’s history of antiques shops and gorgeous architecture, it was the ideal juxtaposition to Teddi’s life on the farm.

3.) You write very personally about the novel’s other main setting, the Overman farm in Kentucky. Being a Kentuckian yourself, do you have a strong connection to Red River Gorge?

The Overman farm comes from my roots and my heart. Nothing makes me happier or causes a flood of memories like setting my feet on farmland. I chose the location of Red River Gorge as the backdrop to the farm for many reasons—its mystery and power are palpable, and it’s so stunning that no matter how many times I’m there, I’m always awestruck. Known for its incredible rock formations, dense forests, waterfalls and wildlife, Red River Gorge was the perfect place for the character of Josh to be swept into the romance of the wild. Paleo-Indians thrived there, and it holds a treasure trove of petroglyphs. Every time I ride the gondola up to Natural Bridge and stand on that massive, nine hundred ton sandstone bridge, I feel connected to something far beyond my comprehension. Over 70 million years of changing weather has sculpted Red River Gorge into a place as magical as it is eerie.

4.) LOOKING FOR ME touches on the power of objects—through them we remember our past and face our future—what are some objects that have held meaning for you in your own life? Do you think it’s important to hold onto the things of our past?

By nature I’m a neat-nut and about as opposite to a hoarder as anyone could be, so I’m not inclined to keep things unless they truly have strong meaning to me. I do think it’s wise to keep things that hold memories like family heirlooms, books, photographs and letters, but there’s a fine line between keeping what is precious or sentimental, and overloading my basement and attic with stuff.

5.) The characters in LOOKING FOR ME seem as real as neighbors that live next door—what do you draw on when writing characters? How much do you borrow from real life? Do you model your characters on people you know?

The characters in my novels arrive in my imagination fully realized. Not only do I see them and hear them, but I also get a strong sense of their spirit. While a few characters might have small similarities to people I’ve known, the majority of them have come to me as the story unfolds. More often than not, I meet them just as my readers meet them. It’s a fascinating process.

6.) Birds and feathers play an important role in this story—where did your interest in birds come from, and what do they symbolize in your work?

Nature, animals and birds have enthralled me for all my life. My parents and grandparents had a deep respect for nature and all her creatures, and from a very early age I was taught to be gentle and kind. One of my first memories is of standing in the vegetable garden with my grandma and having her show me how to gently lift a toad and move him out of the way of the strawberry wagon. By the time I was five, I could name nearly every bird that visited our farm, not only by sight, but also by their songs. I viewed birds as beautiful messengers, and as a teen, I loved reading Native American folklore, which is rich with stories about birds and their spirits.

7.) This is your second novel—what advice do you have for writers and novelists just starting out? How did you find your own voice as a novelist?

Captivating storytelling is a gift—good writing is an art. By understanding how to combine those elements, a writer can save themselves from a whole lot of headaches. There are many books that can help a writer hone their talent, but voice comes from a deep place and cannot be discovered without having an inner ear. I say inner ear because writers must hear their voice come alive and rise from the page, and it must always ring true. Being a good listener helps a writer find his/her voice. By tuning our inner ear to catch voice inflections, mood, and the many subtleties of dialect, our own writing voice is strengthened. I believe the best way for a writer to know if they’ve found their unique voice is for them read aloud something they’ve written. Voice is a complex thing to achieve, but once a writer hears it, they’ll know that they’ve just captured the most illusive butterfly of all.

This week, Beth's publisher is offering a copy of Looking for Me to one lucky winner. Email me at Your subject heading should read "Win Looking for Me." Please include your name and mailing address. Entrants from the U.S. only, please. I'll announce the winner next Sunday morning, June 2 at 8 a.m. CT.

Beth Hoffman's website is 

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman. Viking. 2013. ISBN 9780670025831 (hardcover), 354p.

Monday, May 27, 2013

June Mysteries from Berkley's Prime Crime and Obsidian

This month, there are cats in the book chat, but only because I took the camera to them.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Abbey by Chris Culver

I learned about Chris Culver's books in a roundabout way. The day I worked with Habitat for Humanity, a nun introduced me to Culver's mother, telling me he wrote mysteries featuring a Muslim detective who worked in Indianapolis, and The Abbey spent sixteen weeks on the New York Times ebook bestseller list. Fortunately, Grand Central Publishing picked up both his books because these books deserve a wider audience.

Ash Rashad is a former homicide detective, going to law school, and now working for the prosecutor's office. He'd seen too much in homicide, and as narrator, tells why it drove him to drink, despite his Muslim faith. But, he takes on another homicide investigation when his niece is found dead. He isn't supposed to be involved, but goes to his sister and brother-in-law, and "Broke their hearts as gently as I could." But, the coroner declares the death an overdose, and then one of her friends commits suicide. With the cases closed, the police department seems content, but Ash isn't. And, a couple run-ins with a cop in Homicide makes Ash even more suspicious. How did his niece get involved in "drinking blood"? As Ash probes deeper, he becomes entangled in a case involving drugs and threats to his family. That doesn't mean Ash Rashad is gong to quit.

Culver introduces readers to a fascinating new rogue detective who admits "I didn't believe in rules." He may be a loner with a drinking problem, but it's hard to find fault with him for violating tenets of his faith. He says, "I may not have been a very good Muslim, but my religion called me to seek and foster justice." The Abbey is an intriguing, complex story. And, Ash Rashid is a welcome addition to the mystery field.

The Abbey by Chris Culver. Grand Central Publishing. 2013. ISBN 9781455527410 (paperback), 346p.

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

A Contest Note

Congratulations to the winner of the autographed copy of Beth Hoffman's Looking for Me. Yesterday, I sent it to Alison S. of South Range, MI.

I'm not starting a new contest today since I'll be leaving in a couple days for New York City for Book Expo America. However, anyone interested in a copy of the book might want to stop back on Tuesday. I'm running an interview with Beth that day, and her publisher is giving away another copy of the book.

I hope you stop back on Tuesday! Well, actually, I hope you stop back every day!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

No Easy Answers by Carolyn Hart

Oconee Spirit Press has been releasing Carolyn Hart's backlist. And, Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to discuss a young adult novel she wrote in 1970, No Easy Answers. It's about a time period when there were no easy answers about patriotism, war and peace. It's a novel of suspense set in the Vietnam era.

Bart Hastings was born in a military family. Even though his father was a Colonel, in line to be promoted to Brigadier General, Bart wasn't sure he believed in war and military service after his brother was killed in Vietnam. In fact, he and Nancy, the general's daughter, were attacked in the middle of a peace march. But, the beating he received wasn't the worst thing that would happen to Bart that night. After arriving home and fighting with his mother about  the government's attempt to make Americans fear a Red Threat and Communism, he and his mother were horrified to find military police on the doorstep, saying the Colonel was under suspicion of selling a secret weapon to the enemy. Now, despite his dislike of the military, Bart was determined to do everything he could to prove his father was framed.

In a desperate search for the truth, Bart and Nancy hatched a plan to investigate the other men who could have been responsible for the theft. While searching for clues, Bart's conversations with a priest and the general help him realize he doesn't have all the answers to the state of the country. There are discussions of law and military service, issues that aren't just black and white. And, there's a young man as confused about Vietnam as others were then.

Carolyn Hart doesn't provide answers. She offers opinions on both sides in this riveting story of suspense and espionage. And, Bart Hastings comes to realize there really were No Easy Answers to the conflict the country was going through. But, it took good men to try to help the U.S. get through it, just as it was going to take a determined young man to find answers that would keep his father out of prison.

Carolyn Hart's website is

No Easy Answers by Carolyn Hart. Oconee Spirit Press. 1970, 2013. ISBN 9780983004080 (paperback), 153p.

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

Friday, May 24, 2013

Foal Play by Kathryn O'Sullivan

This is the second mystery I've reviewed in the last couple months that featured female fire chiefs in small Southern communities. However, that's all that Kathryn O'Sullivan's debut novel,  Foal Play, has in common with J.J. Cook's That Old Flame of Mine. Cook's is a charming mystery involving a ghost. O'Sullivan's book is more traditional, and, in fact, is the winner of the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Competition. That award has launched a number of successful series. Recent winners include Linda Rodriguez' Every Last Secret, Gerrie Ferris Finger's The End Game, and Elizabeth Duncan's The Cold Light of Mourning. Donna Andrews and Julia Spencer-Fleming also won the award with their debut mysteries. Now, welcome Kathryn O'Sullivan to those ranks.

Colleen McCabe is fire chief in Corolla, North Carolina, a barrier island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina that has become a vacation retreat for northern suburbanites. When her closest friend, Currituck County sheriff, Bill Dorman, asks her to report to the beach where they found a burned body, she's disturbed by his request that she leave the investigation to him. Can she help it that her gut instinct has helped him to solve a couple cases in the past?

Maybe that's why she doesn't tell Bill when she and her retired school teacher, Myrtle Crepe, see a man with a gun at the island's annual 4th of July fair. However, that one deception leads to more when Myrtle's house explodes, leaving a dead woman inside. Colleen can only assume Myrtle was right, and she had seen the killer of the man on the beach. And, someone must have known that Myrtle knew something about the crime. Even then, Bill doesn't want to listen to Fire Chief McCabe's theories, and she's forced to turn investigator with her dog, Sparky, as a partner. It's tough to keep secrets from the police chief, juggle her job, a guest, and a secret investigation. It becomes tougher when someone else is killed.

Kathryn O'Sullivan's mystery is a solid debut. Colleen herself could be developed more, however I'm sure she will be in time. O'Sullivan's strength lies in her descriptive writing. Corolla comes beautifully to life with its beach setting and the magnificent wild horses of the islands. And, the final chase scene in Foal Play is one I don't remember seeing before in a novel.

I love catching the start of a new traditional series. And, you can't go wrong with the mysteries that win the Malice Domestic awards. Welcome Kathryn O'Sullivan's Foal Play to the field.

Kathryn O'Sullivan's website is

Foal Play by Kathryn O'Sullivan. Minotaur. 2013. ISBN 9781250026590 (hardcover), 258p.

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

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Summer Reading?

Well, it wasn't the best day yesterday, so I needed some family time last night. That means I didn't finish my book.

School let out here on Wednesday. So, for kids it's the start of summer vacation. How many of us think of summer as starting on Monday? So, I have a topic for today. What books are you looking forward to reading this summer? Here are four at the top of my reading list.

Chris Grabenstein, author of the Ceepak mysteries, takes us into an unusual library in his juvenile book, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library. Some of the staff at the library are even using Chris' game this summer. When the world's most famous game maker designed a town's library, he sends out special invitations for a lock-in. But, getting in is the easy part. Grabenstein's puzzler makes it harder to get out. (June release)

How about a debut epistolary novel? Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole spans two continents and two world wars. In 1912, a wartime correspondence blossoms into friendship, and then into love. In 1940, a young woman falls for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against falling in love during wartime, and then disappears during an air raid. A letter is the only clue as to her mother's whereabouts, and the only clue to the past. (July release)

And, then there are the two August mysteries I'm waiting to read. They're both written by Canadian authors, and set in Canada. Vicki Delany's A Cold White Sun is the latest Constable Molly Smith mystery. When a middle-aged teacher is gunned down on a hiking trail in Trafalgar, British Columbia, Sergeant John Winters calls on Molly to assist with the investigation. However, he's bothered by the thought that there may be another murder.

In Louise Penny's How the Light Gets In, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache faces his nemesis and investigates a case that draws him even deeper into Three Pines as he seeks a safe place for himself and his remaining loyal colleagues after most of his best agents have left the Homicide Department and Jean-Guy Beauvoir hasn't spoken to him in months.

There are so many other books for summer reading, but those four top my TBR pile. (It looks like a blue season, doesn't it?)  What books are you planning to read this summer?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Big Beyond by Michael Lister

The San Antonio Public Library has an interesting description of noir and hard-boiled mysteries. "The difference between Hard-boiled and Noir Mysteries is subtle: both feature violence, sex and have a rough and gritty tone.  Hard-boiled mysteries usually focus on a Private Eye or a loner, ex-cop, while Noir Mysteries focus on the criminal or the victim." Michael Lister's The Big Beyond actually fits both descriptions. Jimmy "Soldier" Riley is a private detective and an ex-cop. He's also a criminal and a victim. And, The Big Beyond is definitely violent with a rough and gritty tone.

Lister's author's note strongly suggests readers read The Big Goodbye before they read The Big Beyond. And, he's definitely right. My review of the first in the series said hard-boiled novels such as those written by Chandler and Hammett are all about a dame. The Big Beyond picks up soon after the first book ends. It's 1943, in Panama City, Florida, where Riley is being tortured. However, he really has no will to live. He's killed, lost people he loved, lost people he once trusted, and he doesn't care if he's tortured to death. But, he still has a couple friends, Clipper Jones, a one-eyed black man, and Ruth Ann Johnson, a nurse who lost her leg in the war. Those two show up to save him, and set him on the track to finding killers, even though Soldier is wanted for murder. And, it seems as if Soldier, with only one arm, is always dependent on his friends to get him out of jams. Time after time in this book, he is picked up, tormented, and held at gunpoint.

So, what's the appeal of Michael Lister's books? He captures the time period and atmosphere beautifully; the war year, with its rationing, anti-Japanese sentiments, fear of German U-boats. He brings to life "the mean streets" of Florida, and makes them his own. The language is perfect. The Big Beyond is gritty, torturous, filled with history, drama, and a twisted plot. And, then there's Jimmy "Soldier" Riley, a detective who fell for a dame, and "loved not wisely but too well."

Michael Lister's website is

The Big Beyond by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 2012. ISBN 9781888146349 (paperback), 223p.

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Homecoming by Lacey Baker

Lacey Baker launches the sexy new Sweetland series with Homecoming, a romance set in a small Maryland resort town.It introduces the Cantrell siblings, six driven adults, and six adorable Labrador puppies, a gift to bring them home.

When Mary Janet Cantrell died, she left her bed-and-breakfast, The Silver Spoon, to her six grandchildren. Her oldest granddaughter, Michelle, was the only one who had stayed in Sweetland. She cooked at the restaurant while Nikki Brockington handled the office. But, Nikki hadn't been able to handle the one problem Mary Janet handed on to her grandchildren. She passed on a tax bill of over $50,000. Quinn, Parker, Preston, Michelle, Raine, and Savannah inherited a B&B that owed back taxes, a Labrador mother, and her six puppies. Although most of them had fled Sweetland as soon as they could, they were stuck in town while they made business decisions.

Dr. Quinn Cantrell had fled to Seattle. His heart had been broken when his high school sweetheart had died of cancer. The subsequent death of his father, also to cancer, set him on his path as a successful oncologist. However, he was a workaholic with not much in his life. And, the time he spent in Sweetland, watching Nikki work, playing with the puppy he planned to leave behind, made him realize he might be missing something. He could still return to the clinic in Seattle, "To his pristine, expensive, coveted, empty-as-sin town house."

Nikki Brockington has been Savannah Cantrell's best friend when they were younger. She had always had a crush on Quinn. But, both Nikki and Quinn are haunted by the past. And, it's quite possible that Quinn's past might be too painful to bring him home to Sweetland.

Homecoming is a sexy contemporary novel, a little steamy in parts, with an interesting set of characters. The first one is a perfect set up for a series in which each of the Cantrells will fall in love, and return to Sweetland, just as their grandmother hoped. And, of course, there are all those charming Labrador pups with their own personalities, pups that will keep those big city residents back in the small town. Fans of Mariah Stewart's Chesapeake Diaries series, who don't mind a couple hot sex scenes, might appreciate Lacey Baker's entertaining contemporary romances.

Lacey Baker's website is

Homecoming by Lacey Baker. St. Martin's. 2013. ISBN 9781250019226 (paperback), 352p.

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

Monday, May 20, 2013

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman

Darn that Beth Hoffman. I laughed and cried over her debut novel Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. Her second book, Looking for Me, strikes out in a different direction. But, I challenge you to read it all the way through, and not be moved by it. I cried a number of times as I read this deep, thoughtful story of family and loss and trying to find your place in the world. I want to warn readers who loved CeeCee that Looking for Me is totally different. But, Hoffman creates characters who step from the page. I wanted to wrap my arms around them, hug them, and get to know them better. She breathes life into every person and animal in the book.

My review comes with a reminder that Beth Hoffman is a friend, although I've only met her once. And, I didn't know her when I reviewed CeeCee. However, I've reviewed books before by authors who I know, like, and respect, and I've still said a book had weaknesses or didn't hit home for me. Saying that, Looking for Me is a book that I'm eager to share with readers who will appreciate the characters and the beauty of this story.

Teddi Overman is the narrator, a woman of thirty-six as she tells of her family. She's an antiques dealer and faux-finishing specialist in Charleston, South Carolina. But, she's a woman who has lost so much in her life. And, that compelling story of loss and hope runs throughout the story.

Teddi grew up on a large farm in Kentucky where she and her younger brother, Josh, had the run of the farm and the wilderness beyond it. From the moment she saw Josh, she felt he was special, and she taught him what she knew about nature and the wild. He had a special connection to animals and always hoped to be a ranger. Teddi said, "My brother belonged to the forest, its creatures, and all its mysteries. And they belonged to him." And, she reveals his connection in a mystical way, from his passion for raptors, his rescue of an albino red-tailed hawk, to his feeding of a deer. And, it's that connection that leads to his disappearance at eighteen. Years later, Teddi still looks for messages that Josh is alive in the Kentucky wilderness. And, one clue sends her reeling. As she searches for answers, she uncovers truths she never knew about her own family, a family that broke when Josh walked away.

Teddi tells the story as an adult, but she goes back to earlier times throughout the book to tell what led up to the disappearance that haunts her to this day. And, in that telling, she reveals how she became the person she is. She tells about her passion for furniture, beginning with the day she found an old chair in a ditch, and dragged it home. She tells about sharing animals and nature with her brother. At some level, she understands that she and Josh were both "fixers and healers". She fixed and healed furniture. He turned to animals. Their passions were something their scarred mother never understood. She was a woman who was never happy. Teddi once told her, "The world's beautiful, but you're so busy being disappointed in everything that you don't see it." And, it would take years for Teddi to learn how both of her parents were haunted by the past.

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. And, the injured animals in the book are treated with as much love as the injured people. Teddi, her brother, Josh, her parents, her Grammy Belle, her friends Olivia and Albert and Inez, and others, all come alive on the page. However, the hawks Ghost and Noah, the raccoon, Ella, and the dogs, Eddie and Buddy are just as essential to this story. Hoffman embodies every person and animal with their own characteristics, their own soul. They are living, breathing characters who could step off the page.

Hoffman brings her own background in interior design into Teddi's life. However, it's the author's deep compassion for animals, and her love of people that make this story so real. There's a depth and emotion to this book that's lacking in many novels. Through Teddi's eyes, we see how people can go through life, missing connections to the people we love, and often not knowing the stories in our own families.And, despite the losses, there are always mentors, people who went out of their way to help Teddie, as she did as well. Beth Hoffman's latest novel is moving, sometimes tragic, sometimes sad, but, there's always a glimpse of hope. It's a beautiful story of people finding connections, their place in life, whether it's with other people, furniture, or animals. Looking for Me sometimes just took my breath away with the compassion and kindness in the book.
Beth Hoffman's website is

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman. Viking. 2013. ISBN 9780670025831 (hardcover), 354p.

(Did you realize you could win an autographed copy of Looking for Me?" Check out the May 19th post for details.)

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

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Win it Before You Can Buy It Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Donna S. of Milford, CT won Steve Hamilton's North of Nowhere, and Brian B. of Brockton, MA won The Day is Dark by Yrsa Sigurdardottir.

This week, I'm only giving away one book, but it's a special one. Beth Hoffman, author of the bestselling novel Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, has a second book coming out on May 28th. Looking for Me is just as wonderful, beautifully written with characters that come to life. Beth sent an autographed copy of that book for a giveaway.

Now, I am reviewing it tomorrow if you'd like to wait to enter until after reading the review. But, why wait? Just check out the cover. And, don't just take my word for it. My mother called it "superb".

So, to enter to win the autographed copy, email me at Your subject line should read "Win Looking for Me." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end Friday, May 24 at 6 PM CT. Good luck!

Road Trip! - Indianapolis

Where do librarians go on road trips? To libraries, of course. After I said I had never been to Indianapolis, only through it on vacations, a friend invited me on a road trip with his wife. The three of us set out at 7:30 yesterday morning, and arrived in time for lunch at Shapiro's Deli.

Nothing special to look at, but we were lucky to be there on Saturday. I understand it's packed on weekdays. And, there's a reason it's packed.

I had the Reuben. Picked as the #1 Reuben in Indianapolis, so of course that's what I tried.

From Shapiro's we went to the State Library of Indiana.

It's just beautiful inside.

But, the real treat today was the Indianapolis Public Library.

The old part of the building is just beautiful with the wooden shelves and reading areas.

But, oh, the new part of the building! When you stand on one of the higher floors and look down to the first floor, you can see why a library is a cathedral of learning.

And, you can see why so many weddings are held on that first floor. All the furniture can be moved around, and the brides come down one of those staircases.

OK, I'll admit I'm partial to the inside view, but here are a couple views of the outside from the library.

And, I'll end with a post at the library.. Something for all of us who read books. Sometimes, a passage just hits home.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Weekend Reading?

Early day yesterday. Left home at 5:15 to head to Terra Haute for an all-day conference. Needless to say, I
didn't finish a book to review. So, let's talk about weekend reading. Are you out and about on Saturday (as I am) or are you settled in with a book? Once I get home, I'm reading Lacey Baker's Homecoming, which appears to be the first in a series set in Sweetland, Maryland.

What are you reading this weekend?

(And, you'll want to check in tomorrow when I have a special win it before you can buy it contest.)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg

I'm a big fan of road trip novels, particularly road trips involving a group of women. I thought that would be a major focus of Elizabeth Berg's latest book, Tapestry of Fortunes. There is a road trip, but the story is actually about connecting with the past, and discovering what's important for the future.

Cecelia Ross is a motivational speaker who can tell others how to move on with their lives, but she's lost her own focus. Before her best friend died four months earlier, Penny had pointed out that Cecelia never took time to enjoy life or relax. Cecelia felt as if she couldn't quit. She lacked the courage to change her life, and she had even as a young woman when Dennis Halsinger asked her to move to Tahiti with him. He was the man she loved best, and felt loved by, but she didn't have the courage to change her life. Now, years later, she's sort of lost, and wants to move on. Penny's death, a postcard from Dennis, and a push from her mother help to motivate her. Cecelia sells her house, and moves in with three other women.

Cecelia's roommates couldn't be more different. Joni, at fifty-two, is a chef, who loves preparing food for people, but deals with turmoil at work. Renie is a thirty-nine-year-old gay woman who works for an alternative newspaper and has a chip on her shoulder. Lise is a forty-two-year-old physician who owns the house, and has problems communicating with her daughter. And, when Cecelia announces she's making a road trip to visit Dennis, who is temporarily in Cleveland, all three women have stops to make along the way. Cecelia's small fortune telling box invites each of them to reach for answers, searching for their past, and ways to change the future.

Tapestry of Fortunes is a satisfying book, with a road trip, the "Vacation that galvanizes you and makes you feel like you're going to change your life." This time, it's more than just the road trip that brings change. It's a story of friendship, and finding the truth in our own lives. Berg beautifully captures uncertainty, the need for answers, and the need for love.

Elizabeth Berg's website is

Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg. Random House. 2013. ISBN 9780812993141 (hardcover), 219p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thomas Kaufman, Guest Blogger

Thomas Kaufman is guest blogger today. Tom has a new short story collection out in e-book, Erased and Other Stories. He is the author of STEAL THE SHOW,  the sequel to lthe award-winning novel, DRINK THE TEA. He is also an Emmy award-winning director and cameraman who has spent a lot of time with cops, filming "The FBI Files," "The Prosecutors," and "New Detectives" for Discovery Channel. He has also shot training films for the FBI, as well as hundreds of documentaries.

Tom's going to talk today about "Writing Blind". Thank you, Tom.

Writing Blind

Has anyone ever given you advice that, right up front, you knew was rotten?

What about if you’re a skeptic, like me? Bum advice and a cynical viewpoint, not a great combo.

That’s how I felt when I read FICTION by Michael Seidman.  The author includes a small piece of advice that made me so angry, I threw the book across the room. Then I took a walk to cool down. Seidman had written something in his book that couldn’t  be right. Maybe it was a typo? I turned around and walked back, picked the book up from the carpet and took another look. Nope, not a typo, the guy actually meant what he wrote.

It was close to six and my turn to make dinner. I went to the kitchen, started a stew, and continued my stewing about Seidman.  So okay already, what did he write? Well, in his book, he advises writers to not look at the  screen when they are typing. Turn off your monitor, Seidman says. Put a piece of paper over your laptop screen. Don’t look at what you’re writing.

Now, I’m the world’s worst typist. I mean, just on this little article you’re reading, I’ve spent almost as much time correcting as I have in writing. So when I write a novel or short story, I always look at the screen, sometimes even back up to make corrections. Kind of a correct-as-you-go approach.

With Seidman's method, I’d have to correct everything afterwards. I’d also have to close every other program on my laptop when I was writing, so I wouldn’t accidentally hit the wrong keys and switch to, say a browser, and have all my writing come to naught.

The guy’s bonkers, I thought. Certifiable.  For some reason, his advice bugged me for days till I finally gave up. “Okay, okay,” I grumbled, I’ll try it.”

I was ready. I even did a small exercise to focus my brain, then started writing.

Now, up to that moment, getting 600 words out in a day was difficult. My first try using Seidman‘s method, I wrote 2000 words. Dang.

Why the big difference? I think it has to do with switching off the critical part of your brain.  That part’ll come in handy when you start revising. But for a first draft? The critical part gets in the way of the creative part. So Seidman’s technique, in essence, switches off the critical part of your brain.  His method lets the words flow.
This is now the only way I write. The flow is good and, while I may not make 2000 words a day, I know I can get 600 or maybe 1000 or maybe 1500.  Plus, writing blind makes it easier for me to think in a linear, scene-building fashion.

So thanks, Mr Seidman, wherever you are.  Even a skeptic like me has to admit, you’re on to something. And how about you? Ever receive a pearl of advice you at first thought was an onion?

And, thank you, Tom. If you'd like to check out more of his writing,

here's the link to Thomas Kaufman's story collection, Erased and Other Stories  

Tom Kaufman's website is

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dead, White, and Blue by Carolyn Hart

Just knowing that Dead, White, and Blue is Carolyn Hart's fiftieth book is cause enough for celebration.
However, the fireworks in the latest book launch another mystery in the Death on Demand series featuring Annie and Max Darling. Hart throws her own party in the book, and naturally it ends in murder.

Summer in Broward's Rock, South Carolina means a busy time for Annie Darling at her mystery bookstore, Death on Demand. But, she takes time to celebrate the fourth with her sexy husband, Max. As members of the country club, they enjoy the dance and fireworks. They may be lost in their own romantic world, but even they can see that some of the members are not happy with Shell Hurst. And, no one missed the woman who taunted club members, and then walked away into the night on the 4th. It took a teenage girl to come to Max, report her missing, and swear Shell would have answered her cell phone.

Max isn't easily convinced Shell Hurst didn't just leave on some billionaire's yacht. But, Annie starts to have doubts, and the two are soon questioning the people who might have had uncomfortable dealings with Shell that night. And, there's additional pressure when a mystery writer, a reader, and Max' mother all start texting them, "WTB." "Where's the body?"

Fans of traditional mysteries will relish Dead, White, and Blue. First, there's the pleasure of the bookstore, Death on Demand, with all the mysteries and authors mentioned by name. Then, there's the slow collection of clues as Max and Annie gather together threads to piece together the correct answer. And it ends perfectly for mystery junkies, with the revealing of the murderer back at the country club, surrounded by a cast of neighbors, friends, and suspects. Dead, White, and Blue is the perfect fiftieth book by a master of mysteries. It doesn't matter if you haven't read previous Death on Demand books. If you love mysteries, you'll want to add this latest Carolyn Hart treat to a collection of satisfying mysteries in which justice prevails.

Carolyn Hart's website is

Dead, White, and Blue by Carolyn Hart. Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425260777 (hardcover), 288p.

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

I've never been a member of a book group before moving here, and I have to say it's forcing me to read  books I never would have picked up. And, it forced me to get past the first two chapters in Susan Vreeland's novel,The Passion of Artemisia. Those two chapters were difficult, particularly the first one with its violent torture scene. However, those two chapters were the motivating forces behind Artemisia Gentileschi's art.

Vreeland tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th century Italian artist, whose suffering and betrayal at the age of eighteen figured prominently in her later art. At eighteen, her father accused a fellow artist of raping her and stealing a painting. When the trial was brought to the papal court, Artemisia was forced to face her rapist in court daily, face the crowds that viewed her as a whore, and, finally face torture and humiliation. When the case was settled on return of the stolen painting, a wounded Artemisia demanded that her father find a way for her to leave Rome. A hasty marriage to a painter from Florence was the means of escape, and  the means of a new world for Artemisia and her art.

Vreeland imagines Artemisia's life as a wife, a mother, but, most of all as a woman passionate about her art, and determined to paint. Guided by the advice of Sister Graziela, a nun in the convent where Artemisia lived after her mother's death, Artemisia was determined to paint, to find patrons, and to make a name for herself. In Judith, and other strong women from the Bible, Artemisia found an outlet for her anger against her rapist, her father, and men. And, at the cost of relationships, she placed her art above everything else in her life.

Susan Vreeland has brought to life one of the first women artists to be recognized in her own time. She also points out the cost to artists and intellectuals of the period as Artemisia finds a kindred soul in Galileo. And, she points out the cost to women in Artemisia's early rape and humiliation, and the story of Sister Graziela. The Passion of Artemisia is a fascinating look into a world when women had little power, and men and the Church had too much power. It's a story, though, of one woman's passion for art, a passion that directed her entire life.

Susan Vreeland's website is

The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland. Viking. 2002. ISBN 9780670894494 (hardcover), 288p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lucky Bastard by Deborah Coonts

I feel lucky every year when a new Lucky O'Toole book by Deborah Coonts is released. And, Lucky
Bastard, the latest adventure set in the high stakes world of Las Vegas, is probably my favorite of the four books. Even with a broken heart, Lucky O'Toole takes control of her out-of-control world.

Lucky may have that name, but the VP of Customer Relations for the Babylon casino-resort is definitely unlucky in love. Dumped by her best friend and lover, Teddie Kowalski, in favor of his music career, she's moved into the Babylon, living on the same floor as the Big Boss, her father, and her pregnant mother, Mona. But, a murder in the car dealership in the Babylon leaves her little time for sleep, let alone a love life. And, the woman found dead on the hood of a Ferrari, with the heel of a Jimmy Choo in her throat, had an unexpected relationship with Paxton Dean, a sexy man who used to work security at the hotel. It seems Paxton had a wife he never bothered to tell Lucky about.

As always, Lucky's role as professional troubleshooter for the hotel means she can't just deal with the suspicion that a man she flirted with might be a killer. When a close friend of her father's, in town for a high-stakes poker tournament, ends up dead in the company jet, she has the widow to deal with. And, she fires the poker room manager when he refuses to give a deaf player a seat at the table.Wheat do all of Lucky's problems have in common? Poker.

With Lucky's luck, all these pieces fall together, making it difficult for her to keep up appearances that everything is fine at the Babylon. Smoke and mirrors. But, the Big Boss trusts her to keep everything running smoothly. "Why do you think you run this place? You make the tough decisions, and yet you still lead with your heart."

That's the appeal of the Lucky O'Toole adventures. The books give us Lucky, a character addicted to puns and cliches, who hides her broken heart behind humor. But, they also give us romance, solid characters surrounding Lucky, and the unexpected humorous stories that come out of Las Vegas. And, even when she's working on little sleep, drinking too much to escape pain and uncertainty, and chasing a killer, Lucky O'Toole is a strong, caring woman who makes the extra effort for her friends. As I've said in previous reviews, Deborah Coonts has a sure hand when it comes to bringing characters to life. And, two of those characters, Lucky O'Toole and Las Vegas, are just perfect for each other. Lucky Bastard is just one more adventure in their on-going story, one of the rise and fall of love and luck.

Deborah Coonts' website is

Lucky Bastard by Deborah Coonts. Forge. 2013. ISBN 9780765335463 (hardcover), 349p.

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