Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Munificent Macmillan

I haven't finished the book I'm reading, Gillian Flynn's Dark Places, so I'm going to do something unusual. Tomorrow, I'll be posting the September Treasures in My Closet, the posting of forthcoming September releases. But, I opened package after package today from Macmillan, five August releases that won't get mentioned for a while. And, there are some special books here that I want to share. So, there will be two days in a row of book titles. There's some great August reading, mysteries and historical fiction, coming from Macmillan, and some terrific September books of all types.

First, the historical fiction. It might take me a while to get through Robert The Bruce by Jack Whyte, but I'm definitely going to read it. It's the story of Robert I, known to Scotland as Robert the Bruce, Scotland's greatest king. He led his people during the War of Scottish Independence against England, and his reign saw Scotland recognized as an independent nation. The first book in his Tale of the Guardians series, The Forest Laird, featured William Wallace, a hero to the Scots. Now, he turns to Robert the Bruce for the story of another Scottish hero.

There are four crime novels, beginning with Douglas Corleone's thriller, Good as Gone. Simon Fisk is a former U.S. marshal who makes his living finding children who have been abducted by their estranged parents. He doesn't take cases involving stranger abductions because those strike too close to the case of his own daughter who disappeared years earlier. But, when the French government forces him to help with the search for a six-year-old abducted from her parents' hotel room, he ends up on a dangerous international search.

David Handler, author of the Berger and Mitry mysteries, launches a new PI series with Runaway Man. Benji Golden's late father, the famed cop Meyer Golden, started Golden Legal Services, which is now headed by his mother, Abby, who used to be the only Jewish pole dancer in NYC. Benji, small in stature, but big in brains, is the perfect P.I. to fly under the radar. Then there's "Lovely Rita," the third member of the firm, a gorgeous computer wizard and former lap dancer. When a prestigious law firm hires them to find a missing college student, it seems to be a simple job. But, Benji's investigation leads to several murders involving a powerful family, and now Benji has to stay alive while tracking a killer.

Todd Ritter's Bad Moon was one of my favorite books of 2011. Now, he's back with the third book to feature Perry Hollow Police Chief Kat Campbell, Devil's Night. Campbell never thought she would be running into burning buildings again, or lay eyes on Henry Goll, the man who was trapped inside one with her just over a year ago when the Grim Reaper killings wreaked havoc on the town. Now, both happen on the same day when she's rushed into the town's only museum. The building was set on fire, and in the fire is the museum curator, dead, murdered, but not burned. The next twenty-four hours will be the most dangerous of her life as she seeks a killer and the motivation behind the crimes.

The San Jose Mercury News called Sheldon Russell's character, Hook Runyon, "a great character - smart, tough, and quite relentless." Now, the railroad bull heads to the Southwest in The Hanging of Samuel Ash, a novel set in the 1940s. When Hook is called to investigate a malfunctioning signal, he finds the body of a young man strung up, hung from the signal. The only identification is a bronze hero's medal. When Hook sets out to find the dead boy's family, as well as his killer, he comes across more danger than he could have predicted.

Terrific group of books, isn't it? Just too good not to share.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Watching Eagles Soar by Margaret Coel

I always enjoy the chance to visit with Margaret Coel's characters on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, Father John O'Malley and Vicky Holden, the mission priest and the Arapaho lawyer. Watching Eagles Soar contains a number of stories featuring the two, but it also contains some others. Coel calls them "Stories from the Wind River and Beyond."

In Craig Johnson's introduction to the book, he mentions some of his favorite stories. The ten stories making up "The Arapaho Ten Commandments" are some of mine, although you really shouldn't read them all at once as I did. When I did that, I noticed some of Coel's favorite phrases, repeated frequently. All writers have favorite ways to put words together, but Coel's patterns are easy to pick up when all the stories are read at once. I loved the stories about the unsinkable Molly Brown. Coel makes it easy to wish you knew her.

Most of the stories are indicative of Margaret Coel's love of history. In fact, there are two essays at the end of the book that talk about Coel's use of history in her novels, and the importance of the past in all of them. Anyone who has read her mysteries set on the Wind River Reservation has seen how she melts the past into the present, connecting events to today's life. No mystery writer does that any better than Margaret Coel.

Although there are a few contemporary stories in the collection, it's the Wind River Reservation pieces and the ones that connect to history that stand out. Margaret Coel's passion for the history of the West is obvious in this fascinating collection, Watching Eagles Soar.

Margaret Coel's website is

Watching Eagles Soar by Margaret Coel. Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425265543 (paperback), 352p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I was sent the book for review on a website.

Monday, July 29, 2013

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

It's time for the August Book Chat featuring Josh and Jinx, and August mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Leighton Gage, RIP

I'm just so stunned. I've announced the death of authors before, ones that I admired. But, I've never had to announce the death of an author that I knew and hosted at the Velma Teague Library. Leighton Gage was one of the first authors to come to the library. In fact, his publisher, Soho Press, said he wanted to come there because he loved my blog. I was hesitant because he was a first time author, and his Mario Silva mysteries were set in Brazil. I warned them I might not have an audience. He came anyway, and he came on a rainy night (very unusual in Arizona), and enjoyed himself enough that he came back again. Our timing just never seemed right. The second time, he and his lovely wife, Eide, came on the day of Glendale's Chocolate Affaire, a day filled more with chocolate lovers than mystery lovers. But, he bought Eide chocolate covered strawberries.

His daughter, Melina, announced his death today, followed by a beautiful statement by Eide.

"'My Dearest Friends,
The light of my life was extinguished last night.
Leight passed to eternity peacefully in his sleep.
Should we cry because he died or smile because he lived?'"

A little of both, Eide. I'm going to miss his Mario Silva novels, and his notes. The last time we corresponded, I sent him a couple issues of Bookpage when they raved about his most recent book, Perfect Hatred. He wanted to share the review with his daughters. I'm going to miss him. Rest in Peace, Leighton.

Lethal Treasure by Jane K. Cleland

Over the course of eight books, Josie Prescott has become one of my favorite amateur sleuths. She's grown from an insecure loner into a confident woman, who, best of all, in my opinion, isn't reckless in the course of an investigation. She's a woman who works closely with the police, even when she's a suspect. And, this time, in Jane K. Cleland's Lethal Treasure, there is more than one clue pointing to Josie as a murderer.

Josie has new friends in Rocky Point, New Hampshire, and she and Ty Alvarez enjoy the company of Henri and Leigh Ann Dubois from Dubois Interior Design. Henri and Josie may bid against each other at auctions of abandoned storage units, but they're usually after different items. Josie wants antiques and collectibles for her antique and tag sale business. Henri is more interested in modern items, and he often brings items to Josie for appraisal. She's fascinated by the movie posters from one local storage unit. They're beautiful hand-painted posters from the silent movie age, and, she's hoping she can give Henri good news. But, the day after a heated auction, Josie receives a frantic call from Leigh Ann. Henri never made it home, and twenty-four hours later, when the police can start a search, they find him murdered in the storage unit.

Josie is grief-stricken at the death of her friend. "I was cold to my bones and sad deeper than that." And, she's shocked when she calls the police after a break-in at her house, only to find herself a murder suspect, when items related to the victim and the crime show up. She can't believe that someone is setting her up for the murder of Henri. Hoping to find clues, she continues to try to work on the appraisals of the movie posters, hoping she'll find someone connected to Henri's death.

Why do I like Josie Prescott? She's not one of those sleuths who is TSTL, Too Stupid to Live. She doesn't hide information from the police. And, when she is called in as a suspect, her actions are realistic. "I did what I always did when a situation arose with legal and moral implications too complex for me to sort through on my own." She called her lawyer. That makes her smarter than 90% of other amateur sleuths in my opinion.

There are so many other reasons to appreciate the Josie Prescott Antiques mysteries. There's the wonderful group of employees who work with Josie at Prescott Antiques and Appraisals. They've become her surrogate family. There's Hank, the Maine Coon cat who has become a part of Josie's family. Add in the love interest with Ty Alvarez, and his unconditional support for Josie. Of course, there's the fascinating information in each book about antiques and collectibles, such as movie posters and jewelry. And, for anyone who loves traditional mysteries, there's Josie's determination that "chaos would resolve into order", a staple of the best of the genre.

It's tough for any amateur sleuth to become a murder suspect. But, Josie Prescott is a strong, capable sleuth who puts her knowledge of antiques and investigation to good use. Lethal Treasure is another enjoyable treasure by Jane K. Cleland.

(And, on a side note, how could I ignore that dedication? "This is for librarians, the rock stars of my world. When I was young, librarians welcomed me and encouraged my curiosity, so libraries became, to me, a place of solace and hope. Today, libraries remain a safe haven in times of strife, and librarians continue to be my heroes.")

Jane K. Cleland's website is

Lethal Treasure by Jane K. Cleland. Minotaur Books. 2013. ISBN 9781250026941 (hardcover),

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

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Winners and Historical Mystery Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Josh A. of Westbrook, ME won Lisa Lutz' The Last Word. The winner of Deborah Coonts' Lucky Bastard is Bev M. of Boise, ID. I mailed the books today.

This week, I'm giving away two historical mysteries. In Lindsey Davis' The Ides of April, Flavia Albia
has taken up her father's profession. The daughter of Marcus Didius Falco is now working as a private informer in Rome. Flavis is stuck with an awful person as a client. But, when the client unexpectedly dies, and there's a series of similar deaths, Flavia finds herself under suspicion. She has to find a killer in order to clear her own name.

Or, you could travel back to a Argentina in 1945 in Blood Tango by Annamaria Alfieri.When an obscure young woman is brutally murdered, the police detective concludes that the murderer mistook the girl for Evita Duarte, the actress-mistress of Colonel Juan Peron. The search for the killer spreads far and wide in a historical mystery filled with colorful characters.

The contest will end early this week before I head for a workshop. The contest will end Wed., July 31 at 6 PM CT.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries for each. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win The Ides of April" or "Win Blood Tango." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Friday, July 26, 2013

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy

I have a confession to make. There are some authors who write fiction bestsellers, and I'm a fan of
their nonfiction essays. I love Anna Quindlen's nonfiction. Lisa Scottoline's newspaper columns written with her daughter make me laugh. For some reason, I never picked up Pat Cornoy's My Reading Life when it came out, although I usually love essays about books.The book made me cry at lunch yesterday.

Conroy chronicles his life through the books he read, and his reading relationships. His childhood interests in Ted Williams led him to baseball books. He read books about Native Americans and wildlife. When he wrote about his mother, who introduced him to a lifetime passion for books, he said when he was interested in a subject, "She answered me with trips to the library." And, "There was nothing my mother could not bring me from a library." His mother, who was ashamed of her lack of education, built on her knowledge by reading every book her son read in school. Conroy's pride in his mother's love of books is evident in his writing.

And, his own love of books comes through on every page. He discovered the joy of owning books at The Old New York Book Shop in Atlanta, a place that became his home away from home. He developed as a writer with the help of a beloved teacher, Gene Norris, and I cried as I read of his relationship. Conroy analyzes Gone with the Wind, the book his mother loved, the book he saw as the true story of the South. "This book demonstrates again and again that there is no passion more rewarding than reading itself, that it remains the best way to dream and to feel the sheer carnal joy of being fully and openly alive."

I'll admit I don't read the literature that Pat Conroy admires.But, any lover of books should pick up My Reading Life. Conroy is passionate about books, and his lyrical description of that passion is beautiful. "I trust the great novelists to teach me how to live, how to feel, how to love and hate. I trust them to show me the dangers I will encounter on the road as I stagger on my own troubled passage through a complicated life of books that try to teach me how to die."

Pat Conroy's website is

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy. Doubleday. 2010. ISBN 9780385733577 (hardcover), 337p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New Arrivals

Sorry about yesterday's problem with my blog. I had intended to share new arrivals, so I'll share them today.

I'm kicking the list off with the latest in a favorite series. Lethal Treasure is Jane K. Cleland's new Josie  Prescott Antiques mystery. Josie heads off to a storage unit auction. The owner of a local interior design store asks her to appraise his unit, but he never returns home that night. When he's found dead, Josie's knowledge of antiques may lead to a killer.

Compound Murder  may be be Sheriff Dan Rhodes' toughest case yet in Bill Crider's latest mystery. When the body of an English instructor is found outside a building on a community college campus, Rhodes pursues and arrests a student. The instructor and student had a confrontation, but then he had an argument with the dean as well. Suspects add up as the sheriff tries to find the truth. Publication date is Aug. 13.

Carole Nelson Douglas' Midnight Louie books follow the feline private eye as he sniffs out the truth (and maybe some tuna) on the Vegas Strip. Cat in an Alien X-Ray takes the Las Vegas gang on a science fiction roller coaster ride, as Midnight Louise and company encounter UFO enthusiasts attracted by the Area 51 attraction on the Strip. And, someone else is attracted to the site of the new attraction, a killer who dumped a body there. Midnight Louie's roommate, Temple Barr, PR expert, puts her amateur detective skills to use to protect a client.

Then there's the new Harlan Donnally novel by Steven Gore, A Criminal Defense. Ex-SFPD detective Harlan Donnally is running a small cafe north of San Francisco. But when Mark Hamlin, a sleazy criminal defense lawyer is found murdered under the Golden Gate Bridge, Donnally is drawn back into a twisted and corrupt world he thought he'd left behind.

April 13 is release date for a debut mystery, Murder, She Rode by Holly Menino.
Tilly Elledge is a former world-class rider and a horse trainer forced to sit out a prestigious three-day equestrian competition. Before the event even begins, a truck accident kills a horseman and a colt. But, the disappearance of a young rider reveals sinister roots that lead directly to the tightly knit equestrian community. With Tink's knowledge of the horse community, she may be able to unravel a plot that threatens the reputation and lives of fellow equestrians.

Lucinda Riley's historical novel, The Lavender Garden, sounds fascinating. The cover says, "An aristocratic French family, a legendary chateau, and buried secrets with the power to destroy two generations torn between duty and desire." In 1998, in the south of France, Emilie de la Martinieres inherits her childhood home, a magnificent chateau and vineyard, along with a mountain of debt. The chateau may provide clues that unlock mysteries of the past, including the story of a British office clerk, Constance Carruthers, sent undercover to Paris in 1944, a woman who stumbled into the heart of a prominent family that entertained German military even while plotting to liberate France. The Lavender Garden is a story of intrigue and passion.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germain cycle is the longest-running series about  a vampire in modern literature. The latest addition isNight Pilgrims. Saint-Germain is living in a monastery in Egypt when he is hired to guide a group of pilgrims to underground churches in southern Egypt. The pilgrims fall prey to the trails of travel in the Holy Lands, and a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Grail brings quarrels to a head. Saint-Germain must use all is diplomacy and some of his strength to keep the pilgrims from slaughtering each other.

It's a terrific selection, isn't it? Anything here that you're anticipating?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

No Internet Connection

Sorry. No blog post on Wednesday because I had Internet connection problems on Tuesday night. Posting this from my iPad.

The Cat Sitter's Cradle by Blaize & John Clement

When Blaize Clement died, fans of her Dixie Hemingway series were left wondering what happened to Dixie. Was the pet sitter ever going to get past the death of her husband and daughter, and move on with her life? Would she start a new relationship now that the man she was seeing left for New Orleans? And, what kind of murder would happen on the little barrier island of Siesta Key now? Blaize Clement's son, John Clement, tries to answer some of those questions in The Cat Sitter's Cradle.

At 7 a.m. one morning, Dixie isn't the only one to find herself in an unusual situation. She and Joyce Metzer were both walking dogs when they came across a young illegal alien who had just given birth in the bushes. Actually, they found what they thought was a dead exotic bird first, a resplendent quetzal. So, there they were, with a dead bird, and a young woman and her baby on their hands. And, they couldn't turn her in after she told them she was naming the baby Dixie Joyce Flores. Just one more adventure in Dixie's life. When she took a call from Ethan Crane, a lawyer who was interested in her, she thought, "I wondered how he would react if I told him I was at Walmart buying a cartful of baby supplies for an illegal alien and her newborn baby that I found this morning behind the bushes in a bed of blood-soaked leaves."

But, Dixie Hemingway's life is never about just one job. As a pet sitter, she has other jobs. One involves taking care of a cat and a tank of exotic, expensive fish for a wealthy couple while they were on a business trip. She didn't expect to counsel their daughter or find a body in their swimming pool. Just one more day in the life of Dixie Hemingway.

I was a little leery early in this story. John Clement seemed hesitant, a little slow in picking up on Dixie's character. It's easy to copy the details of her life, ones that had already been laid out by his mother. For a short time, it seemed this would just be another failed attempt at picking up a series after the author died. It seemed as if he had a hard time with the tone of the story and understanding Dixie. Her relationship with her brother and his partner seemed a little off. But, somewhere midstream, Clement picked up the flow, and he was able to bring the two storylines together. He also seemed to pick up on Dixie's character. And, he introduced a homicide detective that understood Dixie's history.

John Clement may have been a little slow in getting off the ground with the book he co-wrote with his mother. Once he found his rhythm, The Cat Sitter's Cradle fell into the established pace and characters. And, it's obvious that Blaize Clement made the right choice with the son and author who can continue to bring her character to the readers who cherish the stories of a cat sitter in paradise, Siesta Key in Florida.

John Clement's website is

The Cat Sitter's Cradle by Blaize & John Clement. St. Martin's Minotaur. 2013. ISBN 9781250009326 (hardcover), 290p.

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

Monday, July 22, 2013

Woof at the Door by Laura Morrigan

People who think Berkley Prime Crime mysteries are fluff need to be steered to Laura Morrigan's debut mystery, Woof at the Door. Morrigan's first Call of the Wilde novel is a must-read for animal lovers and anyone looking for a new series.

Grace Wilde is an animal behaviorist in Jacksonville, Florida, but she's actually much more than that. Although she is a licensed veterinarian, she doesn't practice because she's too closely attuned to the animals. Grace can communicate with animals, feel their emotions, and calm them down. When she's called to her first crime scene, she knows that Jax, the Doberman owned by the quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars, saw his owner's killer. But, Jax is so traumatized he can't give Grace more information. And, Grace, who was once burned badly when she revealed her gift to a boyfriend, can't tell the investigating officer what she suspects. Sergeant Kai Duncan from the crime lab might be intelligent, but why would he ever believe her? Even when he calls her to assist with a jaguar at a suspect's house, Grace is afraid to reveal her talent. She just has to find a way to convince Kai that she knows something about the killer without revealing her source, a traumatized Doberman.

Laura Morrigan has given Grace Wilde a talent that is believable in these days of dog whisperers. It's a pleasure to read about Grace's talent, although she herself is afraid to share it with anyone. Her sister, Emma, tries to convince her she doesn't need to hide her true abilities. But, Grace has been burned once, and revealing to Kai Duncan that she has a psychic connection to animals might burn her again. Grace Wilde is surrounded by a strong supporting cast in the debut of what promises to be an outstanding new series. Readers who like mysteries about zoos, vets, or animal trainers, might want to pick up Woof at the Door.  Actually, anyone who wants to be in at the launch of an appealing series should pick up the first Call of the Wilde adventure. I loved it.

Laura Morrigan's website is

Woof at the Door by Laura Morrigan. Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425257197 (paperback), 295p.

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

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames

If I'm correct, A Killing at Cotton Hill is Terry Shames' debut novel, although she has written before.There's nothing I enjoy more than settling in with the first book in a new series. It's good to know the publication date has been moved up to January for the second in the series,The Last Death of Jack Harbin. I hated to close the book on Samuel Craddock.. Shames and her protagonist, Samuel Craddock, both have a gift for storytelling.

Craddock may appear to be a crusty retired police chief, but even in his sixties, with a gimpy leg, he's still the best lawman Jarrett Creek ever had. And, when he learns a lifelong friend, Dora Lee Parjeter, was murdered, he takes it personally. He had brushed her off when she called the night before, complaining someone was spying on her. Dora Lee had been nervous out on her farm ever since her abusive husband died. Knowing the current police chief will never be sober enough to truly investigate the case, Craddock sticks his nose in his town's business. Rodell Skinner may think he's arrested the killer, but a conversation or two convinces Craddock that Rodell has the wrong person in custody, and the killer of his old friend is still out there. Samuel Craddock feels terrible that he hadn't responded when Dora Lee needed help. Now, he's bound and determined to find her killer. "Jarrett County is my territory, and I don't like somebody thinking they can get away with killing a good woman I've known my whole life."

Shames' novel is an excellent traditional mystery, set in a small community with interesting characters. However, it's Samuel Craddock who brings the story to life. He's the narrator, a shrewd Texan, a widower and former lawman who loves his hometown. As he tells the story of his investigation, he emerges from the page, a strong man, a widower who is a little lonely after his wife's death. This investigation brings a new spring to his step. He's not really ready to settle in with just a cat for company. Instead, he builds on his years of experience and his knowledge of people. Even after all his years serving the community, he can still be surprised by long-buried secrets. And, it takes all of his cunning to dig through secrets and lies to trap a dangerous killer who still has evil plans.

It's time to welcome a former Texas lawman to the ranks of investigators. Samuel Craddock comes to life in Terry Shames' A Killing at Cotton Hill.

Terry Shames' website is

A Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames. Seventh Street Books. 2013. ISBN 9781616147990 (paperback), 233p.

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

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Twist of Humor Giveaway

I'm kicking off the mystery giveaway a day early this week because it works better with my weekend schedule. Congratulations to the winners of Ann Cleeves' Silent Voices. One copy went to Mary B. from St. Paul, MN, and the other to Jane L. from Diamondhead, MS.

This week, I'm giving away two mysteries with a twist of humor. Actually, I think of Deborah Coonts' Lucky Bastard as a caper. No matter, how you think of it, the latest Lucky O'Toole novel, set in The Babylon casino in Las Vegas, is a treat. When a woman is found murdered with a stiletto on a car in the casino's car show, it's up to Lucky, the head of public relations and the chief troubleshooter, to clean up the problem. Cleaning up for Lucky means dealing with all the daily problems, her love life, and, of course, murder.

Or, you could win Lisa Lutz' The Last Word. Author Gillian Flynn says, "The Last Word is Raymond Chandler meets Arrested Development. Zany, witty, and full of dark surprises, Lisa Lutz's novel is pure fun—and Izzy Spellman, PI, tops the list of 'Fictional Characters I'd Like to Meet for a Bourbon.'" Izzy Spellman has been followed, extorted and questioned as part of her family's firm, Spellman Investigations. Now, though, with a charge of embezzlement against her, the business, her license, and her family's livelihood is threatened. It could be the end of Izzy Spellman, PI.

Which humorous mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I'll need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Lucky Bastard" or "Win The Last Word." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Friday, July 26 at 6 PM CT.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Final Sentence by Daryl Wood Gerber

Daryl Wood Gerber has found the perfect recipe for all of us who love cozy mysteries and food. Final Sentence launches her new Cookbook Nook series. Jenna Hart and her Aunt Vera open a culinary bookshop and cafe, The Cookbook Nook, in Crystal Cove, California. The store caters to those who love cookbooks and mysteries and books about food. If Gerber can't entice you with all the discussion of celebrity chefs, cookbooks, and cozy mysteries featuring food, she'll add all the discussion of food. Top it off with a murder mystery, and most cozy mystery readers will want to snatch up this book.

After her husband's tragic death in a boating accident, Jenna finally succumbed to her aunt's invitation, and agreed to become a partner in the cookbook shop. However, with her background in advertising, she added all kinds of other enticements, cooking gadgets and gifts, to entice shoppers. Then she invited her college roommate, celebrity chef and cookbook author, Desiree Divine, to appear at the store on opening day. A brilliant marketing idea!

Maybe not so brilliant. When Desiree arrived in town with her entourage, it stirred up trouble with a neighboring shopkeeper. And, Jenna heard that her trusted friend had once had an affair with Jenna's husband, and had hooked up with all of her boyfriends. Although she searched the town, Jenna failed to track Desiree down to have it out with her. A morning walk on the beach the next day did nothing to cool Jenna down. Instead, she was the one who uncovered Desiree's body. And, once it was known Jenna was looking for Desiree the night before, she's suddenly on the top of the suspect list.

Daryl Wood Gerber has put together a terrific cast of characters to welcome readers to Crystal Cove and the Cookbook Nook. Jenna may need help as an amateur sleuth, but her Aunt Vera, her new chef Katie Casey, and Jenna's friend Bailey are all there to offer advice and support. And, Gerber has avoided a problem I've commented on with amateur sleuths. She's given Jenna a full staff at the shop so she does have time to slip away and ask questions here and there.

Final Sentence brings together mystery, a hint of romance, talk of cookbooks, food and cozy mysteries. Gerber also introduces a cute kitten, Tigger. If that isn't enough to entice a cozy mystery reader, it's a lost cause. All the elements come together beautifully in this charming mystery.

Daryl Wood Gerber's website is (And, a note. Gerber also writes under her pseudonym, Avery Aames.)

Final Sentence by Daryl Wood Gerber. Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425258040 (paperback), 304p.

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

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Good Book Day

I had a good book day! What's that mean to you? What's your good book day?

First, I talked about books for two hours today. I'm teaching Readers' Advisory workshops every Wednesday for six weeks. I hope the attendees are enjoying the sessions as much as I am.

I agreed to host an upcoming guest piece from Cassandra King. Her novel, Moonrise, will come out in September, and I'll have two finished copies to give away to readers! Are you ready for a Southern Gothic novel?

And, I received eight books in the mail today. Three were from Penguin's Obsidian, so you'll have to wait to hear about them until this month's book chat. The book chat featuring August mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian will cover nine books. (I'll see if I can round up a cat or two for that.)

The other five books are included in my good book day.

Scholastic sent a coming-of-age novel for ages ten to fourteen. Kathryn Erskine's Seeing Red comes out in October. It's a story based on the author's own memories and experiences with racial segregation. Red Porter's entire life changed when his father died and he has to face questions about his family's legacy and the injustices of his hometown. It's a story of family, friendship, and race relations.

There are three mysteries from Macmillan's Minotaur Books. Charles Finch's A Death in the Small Hours is out in paperback on Aug. 6. Set in Victorian England, Charles Lenox, now at the pinnacle of his political career and a new father, has left his crime investigation days behind him. However, he finds a crime-ridden village when he plans a visit to the quiet Plumbley. And, it isn't long before he's caught up in a case again.

I'l admit my favorite book today is a November release, Julia Spencer-Fleming's new book featuring police chief Russ Van Alstyne and Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson. It's Through the Evil Days. I don't want to spoil anything for those who might not be completely through the series. So, I'll just say that Russ and Clare face a kidnapper and a link to an arson investigation while in a remote section of the state. It's a dangerous crew they face while determined to stay alive.

Tasha Alexander continues her successful Victorian series with an October 15 release, Behind the Shattered Glass. How about a mystery that features "A ruined abbey on a beautiful estate in Derbyshire; a murdered peer; upstairs/downstairs secrets, and an unlikely romance" in a "Cinderella-meets-Downton Abbey story"? It's set in Victorian England and features Lady Emily and her dashing aristocratic husband.

Jess McConkey's latest novel, The Widows of Braxton County, also has a mystery link. As Shirley Damsgaard, she wrote the Ophelia and Abby mysteries. Now, under her pseudonym, McConkey, she looks at family secrets. Kate puts her city past behind her when she marries Joe Krause and moves to his family farm in Iowa. As she struggles to find her place in the small farming community, she begins to realize her husband and family are not who she thought they were. Town gossip says the family harbors a long-kept secret about a mysterious death, a secret that haunts Kate as a dangerous chain of events begins.

I'd love to hear what makes a good book day for you. I talked about books for two hours, booked a guest piece on the blog and two giveaway books, had eight books waiting at home, and three of those are for the next book chat. Definitely a good book day!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

Jessica Brockmole's debut novel, Letters from Skye, will undoubtedly receive some comparisons to The
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. In some ways, that's a shame. Letters from Skye deserves its own moment in the sun. This novel of star-crossed lovers is also a story of mother and daughter, family, and wartime romance. And, it's all told in the form of lovely letters full of poetry and longing. It's a novel that will tug at your heart.

Elspeth Dunn was a poet in her early twenties who had never left the Isle of Skye when she received her first fan letter in 1912. David Graham was an American college student, who, despite his restlessness and antics, had a love of literature and poetry. As they corresponded, they shared their deepest feelings, although Elspeth held back a little of her own story. When David volunteered to be an ambulance driver during the Great War, everything changed.

Twenty-eight years later, in 1940, Elspeth's daughter, Margaret, chases after a long-time friend, now a pilot in the Royal Air Force. When Elspeth and Margaret argue after a bomb explodes near their house, Elspeth disappears, leaving only a letter addressed to a mysterious "Sue". As Margaret writes to her beloved Paul, she tells the story of her search for answers to her mother's mysterious past. And, Elspeth's past unrolls in the form of her own love letters.

There's a book trailer for Letters from Skye on YouTube. Before I even saw it, I picked out the quote that summarizes this book for me. "A letter isn't always just a letter. Words on the page can drench the soul." This novel is a story of two souls, caught up in war and secrets. It's a story of longing, bittersweet loss, and heartache. Letters from Skye is beautifully written in the form of letters from two generations of lovers, caught up in war. And, it stands on its own as a solid debut novel by an author who couldn't have made a more promising start.

Jessica Brockmole's website is

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole. Ballantine. 2013. ISBN 9780345542601 (hardcover), 304p.

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Andrea Thalasinos, Guest Blogger

Andrea Thalasinos' second novel, Traveling Light, was released today (Forge Books, Macmillan). The blurb calls it,  "An inspiring story about fate, family, and healing. This novel explores what is possible when we cut the ties that hold us down and free the heart to soar." It's the story of a woman who takes a break from her marriage to find answers. And, although it's Thalasinos' second novel, I was also interested in her because she'll be the guest speaker at a workshop I'm attending in Madison, Wisconsin at the beginning of August. She's going to discuss her first book, An Echo Through the Snow, and how it can be used for book discussion groups.

Thalasinos is a professor of Sociology at Madison College in Wisconsin. However, her true passion is her huskies and writing fiction. Her website is

I'd like to welcome Andrea Thalasinos, who is writing about books and libraries today.


I remember sitting in the high school lunchroom the first week of 10th grade wondering “how in the hell am I going to get through three more years of this #*&%?” Profound boredom propelled me to seek refuge in, of all places, the high school library. At first I checked out authors I’d heard of like Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Hardy and read through each one.
Next I was drawn to the Existentialists. Perhaps because I’d always felt a bit like The Stranger (Camus). Then I discovered that there was no better place for an introverted misfit than finding asylum in the stacks. The collective smell of book bindings, cloth covers and paper (which Kindles and e-readers are yet to simulate) were intoxicating. It was a sanctuary in which I could hide while cutting class (which I frequently did to the tune of graduating in the bottom half of my class) or grapple with the alienation that so often plagues the coming-of-age.
One day while checking out more books, the school librarian asked if I’d like to work as a volunteer student helper. I’d be re-shelving books, checking books out for students and performing other tasks that needed doing. Talk about heaven. Wandering through the stacks in awe, touching, smelling and getting lost in what felt like forests I now had a place to be, a job with a purpose and most of all—the right to check out as many books at a time as I wanted.
I soon shifted gears into Dostoevsky, Gogol, Hesse, Camus. And while my teenage mind struggled to understand, I had a sneaking suspicion that there were deeper meanings that I’d yet to grasp because of limited life experience. But knowing that didn’t stop me. I plunged deeper into the Existentialists in 11th grade, perhaps because of a myriad of continuing family crises. I’d read Samuel Beckett while sitting on a park bench pondering the true meaning of Waiting for Godot. I’d read Kafka, with one of my favorites being The Metamorphosis. I remember being astounded at how the primary concern of the salesman (who awakens one morning to find he’s turned into an insect) was limited to that of people finding out.
The librarian had remarked as to how curious it was that I was reading such heavy literature while most girls my age were drawn to Jane Austen. And while lacking the presence of mind for a good come-back (unlike today’s kids), I remember wondering why she would ask such a thing when these were part of the school’s collection too.
While I’ve since read hundreds of things and no longer remember the precise plot twists, characters and themes, a piece of each one of these works remains with me. Reading helped fuel my curiosity about the world and about my place in it. And it’s precisely that hunger that drives me on to discover new insights from the works of Marilyn Robinson, Russell Banks, Daniel Woodrell, J.M. Coetzee and Elizabeth Strout. Someone once said, ‘Everything’s already been written and done. What’s new is in the telling—the perspective, the insight and to have the guts and rawness to say what’s real, to tell the unspeakable truth.’ I’d like to think that all those years spent struggling with ideas was precisely the thing I needed. Thank you to that high school librarian who reached out. She gave me the chance to become larger than what I was and to develop what would become a life-long passion, one that never wears thin or gets old.
Thank you, Andrea. And, thank you to that school librarian as well.
Traveling Light by Andrea Thalasinos. Forge. 2013. ISBN 9780765333025 (hardcover), 368p.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Dyeing Wishes by Molly MacRae

Molly MacRae takes readers back to Blue Plum, Tennessee with Kath Rutledge and her lovable, quirky friends in the enjoyable mystery Dyeing Wishes. This time, it's almost more than Kath can handle as she's still trying to deal with the loss of her Granny and the acquisition of a yarn shop and a ghost.

It was supposed to be a wonderful outing for the Thank Goodness It's Fiber (TGIF) needle arts group. They were going to Debbie Keith's Cloud Hollow farm for a lesson on dyeing yarn and wool, and the chance to see the new lambs. But, the sheep had other things on their minds. When they didn't come near the visitors, Kath and Debbie trekked out in the pasture to find them gathered around two bodies. Will Embree and Shannon Goforth should have been enemies. Instead, they were dead in a field together, while Shannon's mother, Bonny, hovered near the fence with the rest of the TGIF group.

Bonny and Debbie both turned to Kath to find answers. She and her friends had already unraveled one mystery. And, despite her good intentions to stay out of it, she was pressured from all the members of the group, and her resident ghost, Geneva, who fancied herself as a detective's assistant. A ghost, rumors, and gossip swirl around as Kath and her friends look for answers.

MacRae's Dyeing Wishes is filled with a cast of charming characters, from Kath to her store manager, Ardis, to Thea, "the Loud Librarian". But, no one takes murder lightly. They insist on respect for the victims. And, Kath, who is still trying to understand why her Granny implies she might have inherited "a gift", is uneasy with her feelings when she touches the victims. Why does she see Geneva? Why does she feel emotions when she touches people? Kath is still confused about her Granny's death and her unusual inheritance. She's still has a feeling of "Loss, disorientation, the need for a place to anchor." Kath Rutledge may be thirty-nine, but she is still struggling, despite the new "family" she has acquired.

Dyeing Wishes has its share of humorous situations, but it's also a respectful mystery. It's a mystery, and a series, that promises growth for Kath, and some interesting relationships in the future.

Molly MacRae's website is

Dyeing Wishes by Molly MacRae. Obsidian. 2013. ISBN 9780451239563 (paperback), 308p.

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

Sunday, July 14, 2013

An Ann Cleeves Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Carole O. of Sun City West, AZ won the copy of William Ryan's The Twelfth Department. A.A. of Bellevue, NE won Enigma of China. The books went out in the mail yesterday.

This week, I'm giving away two copies of the same book. You may have read Ann Cleeves' award-winning Shetland Island series, but have you read Silent Voices, the first Vera Stanhope mystery released in the U.S.? Clleeves' Vera Stanhope mysteries are the basis for the hit Public Television series, "Vera". Inspector Vera Stanhope has kept it a secret that she swims at a local gym every morning, but when she finds a body in the sauna room, she's forced to call in her team. Check out this interesting new British police procedural.

If you would like to win one of the copies of Cleeves' Vera Stanhope mystery, email me at Your subject heading should read "Win Silent Voices." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end Friday, July 19 at 6 p.m. CT. Good luck!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Names of Our Tears by P.L. Gaus

It's not that I'm obsessed with Amish mysteries set in Ohio. It's just that P.L. Gaus and Linda Castillo
came out with books about the same time. There couldn't be a bigger difference in style, though. P.L. Gaus' The Names of Our Tears is a police procedural. Both have murders, but Castillo's books are more violent. However, both authors show that evil doesn't avoid the Amish.

Eighty-year-old Mervin Byler was just out for a morning buggy ride with a widow on his mind when he stumbled across a crime scene. He found an upset horse agitated over the body of an Amish girl. Byler's 911 call brought in Sheriff Bruce Robertson's team, a team that was puzzled first to find an Amish girl shot in the head, and equally surprised to find cocaine dumped in the pond on her family farm. When Robertson learned Ruth Zook had just returned from working as a waitress in Florida, his suspicions were aroused. After word of Ruth's murder swept through the Amish community, another young woman showed up to report that she had brought a suitcase back on the bus from Florida, just as Ruth had. Someone was using Amish girls as drug mules on a Florida to Ohio route. And Ruth's defiant act of dumping the cocaine in the pond opened up a hornet's nest for Robertson and his team.

Each of Gaus' mysteries bring together a trio of friends, Robertson, Pastor Cal Troyer, and Professor Mike Branden. At times, each of the men have been the focus of books. This time, it's Sheriff Robertson as he struggles to find answers to a crime wave and drug operation that stretches from Ohio to Florida's Gulf Coast. Police procedurals remain some of my favorite mysteries precisely because of the combination of methodical police work and shrewd experience. At the same time, Gaus is able to reveal the Amish way of life, and the different treatment needed to work with them on a murder case. While Robertson may sometimes employ unusual methods to get what he needs, he also uses his friend, Pastor Troyer, as a compassionate assistant. In this case, Troyer is employed to work with a young girl who only trusted the victim. Robertson needs all the clues he can gather in a frustrating case with witnesses who disappear, and links to crime thousands of miles away.

P.L. Gaus brings a deep knowledge of Amish culture to an absorbing story that could be all too real in The Names of Our Tears.

P.L. Gaus' website is

The Names of Our Tears by P.L. Gaus. Plume. 2013. ISBN 9780452298194 (paperback), 240p.

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

Friday, July 12, 2013

New Arrivals

I had a meeting at the library tonight, so didn't have time to finish a book. But, there are always ways to talk about books. Here are a few of the books that arrived in the mail recently..

In no particular order...

Terry Shames' new Samuel Craddock mystery is, A Killing at Cotton Hill. Since the chief of police of
Jarrett Creek, Texas doubles as the town drunk, former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in when an old friend is murdered. As Craddock digs to find a killer, all the pettiness and secret vices of the small-town residents are revealed.

Unleashed is the new mystery by David Rosenfelt. Lawyer and sleuth Andy Carpenter helps a friend, Sam Willis, get a dog to the vet after he hit him with his car. Because of the accident, Sam missed a plane ride with Barry Price. Lucky for Sam because the plane crashed killing Barry. When Barry's wife is suspected of sabotaging the plane, Andy steps in only to find a sinister trail that leads to a bigger crime.

July 30th is release date for C.J. Box' The Highway. According to the blurb,
"America's wide open spaces - and the dangerous people that call those regions home - are a returning theme" for Box. When two girls disappear on their way to a Thanksgiving celebration, a Montana investigator named Cody Hoyt is roused by his son to find them. The trail of a trucker leads Cody and his old partner to a nightmarish corner of the West where sinister men have been carrying out their dark intentions for years.

Melodie Johnson Howe calls on her days as an actress in movies and television for her Diana Poole thriller, City of Mirrors. Diana Poole is a forty-something actress desperate to rebuild her career. She jumps at the opportunity to play young starlet Jenny Parson's mother in a major film. But Jenny is ruining the film with her antics. When Diana finds the young woman's body, she decides to fight back and search for a killer, a search that uncovers scandalous Hollywood secrets. City of Mirrors is an August release.

Those of us who love Margaret Coel's mysteries featuring Father John O'Malley and Vicky Holden will welcome  Watching Eagles Soar, stories from the Wind River and beyond. Follow the two characters into the mysteries and crimes of the Wind River Reservation.

I love getting the mail. I never know what interesting books will show up.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Man Up! by Ross Mathews

Man Up!: Tales of My Delusional Self-ConfidenceMost of the readers here will never pick up Ross Mathews' Man Up! The comedian's book, subtitled "Tales of My Delusional Self-Confidence" is a little too raunchy with too much foul language for most of us. I actually read the entire book because I met Mathews in Chicago during ALA, and I liked his short routine. And, it turns out there were a couple very important messages in the book.

Ross first came to attention of TV audiences as a correspondent for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The day his stint as an unpaid intern ended, he was asked if he wanted to meet George Clooney on the show that night, and then cover the red carpet premiere of Ocean's Eleven. It was the moment that launched the career of a young man who loved TV and idolized talk show hosts. Chapters of the book discuss Gwynth Paltrow and Michelle Kwan, celebrities Mathews had crushes on. Those are interesting chapters, particularly with the friendship that developed between Paltrow and Mathews.

As I said, there are a couple important messages. If you haven't guessed from the book jacket, Ross Mathews is gay. And, he comments that he considers himself blessed to come from a family that "embraced my uniqueness." When he asked his mother what advice she'd give a parent with a gay kid, she said, "My main concern was you. My only fear was that you could be hurt. I wanted to go out and fight for you, because I didn't know what else to do. It's just a protective instinct that parents have. I'd tell parents this: your job is to protect, support, and love your children no matter what so just keep doing your job."

And, the title itself carries a message, no matter who you are. Mathews defines man up as "You are what you are, and the sooner you stop hating what makes you unique and start celebrating it and using it to make you stand out from the crowd, the better you life will be." A powerful message for any person.

Ross Mathews blogs at

Man Up! Tales of My Delusional Self-Confidence by Ross Mathews. Grand Central Publishing. 2013. ISBN 9781455501809 (hardcover), 216p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I picked up the book at a conference.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What are You Reading Today?

Today, I'm teaching the first of six Readers' Advisory workshops at the library. The classes are identical, but
we're offering them six times so people in the system have a chance to get to a session. The last time I taught it was in October in Pittsburgh, so I spent the evening going over my notes and preparing for the classes. So, I didn't have time to read. 

Since I'm going to be talking about books and readers today, it's the perfect time to talk about what we're all reading. I'm reading two books. One is Luanne Rice's The Lemon Orchard. It's the story of a woman who lost her daughter in a car accident. When she goes to visit her aunt and uncle, she finds herself drawn to the man who maintains their orchard, a man whose daughter disappeared. I've also started Jamie Ford's Songs of Willow Frost. It doesn't come out until September, but a co-worker recommended it, saying it was even better than Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I read books because I'm interested in the characters. If books don't have interesting characters, I have a hard time getting interested.

What are you reading right now, and why did you pick it up? I'd love to know!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

It's taken me ten years to get around to reading Mark Haddon's debut novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. In fact, I wouldn't have read it if my book group wasn't reading it for last night's discussion. Christopher John Francis Boone, the main character, is autistic, and a savant in many ways. He's a fascinating character, and this is actually his story of a search for answers that aren't lies. Christopher can't tolerate lies.

When Christopher finds the neighbor's dog killed with a garden fork, he's determined to find the killer. Despite his fear of strangers, he makes a logical plan to talk to the neighbors and find out what they know. Sherlock Holmes would have done that, and Christopher likes the logic of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Although his father makes him promise to drop the investigation, Christopher can't let go.

And, this is the key to the story. As an autistic boy, the fifteen-year-old can't let go. He can't let go of his fears, but his determination to find answers triumphs fear. And, once he finds the disturbing answer, he can't live with it. He has to make another plan so he can carry on his logical, step-by-step life. If that means finding his way to London, he'll do it one step at a time.

Haddon, who once worked with autistic individuals, has created a character who is brilliant in some ways, and locked in his own world and fears in others. It's easy to see why his parents had such a difficult time coping with his needs. This book didn't work for me as a mystery, although some have called it that. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time really only works as a window into one young man's world. It's fascinating as a view of an autistic young man's life. At the same time, it's a claustrophobic book, one that I found difficult to get through.

Mark Haddon's website is

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Doubleday. 2003. ISBN 0585509456 (hardcover), 226p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, July 08, 2013

Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo

Linda Castillo breaks a reader's heart in the prologue of Her Last Breath, and then broadsides you with the
ending. Since I read so many mysteries, it's not often that I'm taken by surprise when the killer is revealed. The climax was perfect in this latest volume of one of my favorite series.

Kate Burkholder is chief of police in Painters Mill, in Amish country in Ohio. She left the Amish life fifteen years earlier, but she still deals with crimes against the Amish. Even so, it comes as a shock to see the results of a hit-and-run accident, an accident that killed most of an Amish family. It makes it even harder on Kate, though, when she has to tell the surviving spouse, her childhood best friend.

While Kate's department works with the Holmes County Sheriff's Department to find the driver, her investigation leads her to believe that this might not have been an accident. But, who was the intended target? And, who hated an Amish family enough to kill them?

Kate Burkholder remains one of my favorite characters in a series. She's a flawed character, one with her own secrets. Only her brother and sister, along with her best friend and lover, John Tomasetti, know the secret that comes back to haunt her when bones are discovered. But, that secret from her past influences all of her actions, from her rage at the Amish for calmly accepting everything that happens to her fear of committing to Tomasetti. And, she knows of the conflict in her heart. "I don't know what is says about me that I'd rather face off with a couple of pissed-off drunks than look too hard at the things going on in my own life."

Her Last Breath brings back so many memories for Kate, memories of her childhood, some that she'd like to forget, and others that she pushed away. An innocent victim stirs some of those thoughts of "Those formative years, when summer lasted forever, the future held infinite promise - and we still believed in dreams." Kate is very vulnerable in this book, and she realizes it. Between Tomasetti, her childhood friend, and her terrible secret that may finally be revealed, there are moments when she feels trapped. But, Kate Burkholder, even at her most vulnerable, is a strong, determined police officer. And, Linda Castillo gives her every opportunity to demonstrate her strength as well as her weaknesses in this outstanding mystery.

Linda Castillo's website is

Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo. St. Martin's Minotaur. 2013. ISBN 9780312658571 (hardcover), 308p.
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Crime Fighting Under Communism Giveaway

This week, I'm giving away two mysteries set in Communist countries where it's not easy to be a detective.

Enigma of China is Qiu Xiaolong's latest mystery. Publishers Weekly said, "The dilemmas of being an
ethical cop in a police state have rarely been as neatly delineated." Chief Inspector Chen Cao is a poet by training who was assigned by the party to the Police Department. He's one of the most respected men in Chinese law enforcement, so he's called in to sign off on a death as a suicide. However, when the facts don't add up, Chen risks angering those in power if he investigates the death as a homicide.

Or, you could win William Ryan's The Twelfth Department, set in the Stalinist Soviet Union. In Moscow in 1937, Captain Alexei Korolev has his own room in an apartment, a job in the police force, and good health. But, he's truly happy when his son comes for a visit. However, he's assigned to investigate the sensitive case of the murder on an important man. It's a case that could mean his job, or the deaths of his entire family.

Do you want to read a mystery set in China or the Soviet Union? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either, "Win Enigma of China" or "Win The Twelfth Department." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.  The contest will end Friday, July 12 at 6 PM CT.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link

If you want to read a memoir about a woman who refused to be beaten down by life, try Mardi Jo Link's Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm.Determination, hard work, and the love of a mother and sons saw Link and her boys through the toughest year of their lives.

In June 2005, after nineteen years of marriage, Mardi Jo Link and her husband called it quits. She was the one who wanted out of the failed marriage. Would she have asked him to leave if she had realized the hardship she and her sons faced in the next year? She said she was soon to be divorced, in debt, swollen-eyed, and a single mother farmer trying to hang on to the land she loved, a farm in Northern Michigan that she called Big Valley. It was named for a favorite TV show with another strong woman raising sons.

Bootstrapper is a story of courage, the courage needed to face one day after another when Link didn't know if she could pay the heating bills, pay the mortgage, feed her sons. And, it was a constant struggle. She struggled with her emotions as things went wrong, as she lost her beloved horses, faced down her pride to ask for help when she didn't want to take government assistance. But, she continued to turn in writing assignments and wait for checks. She tried to raise a hog for food, and couldn't kill it. Sometimes everything appeared to go bad at once. Sometimes, the only reason she had to go on was for the sake of her three sons. She realized "The four of us are just one swipe away from losing everything: the farm, the myth of divorce being survivable, the idea that I can protect my sons from everything. From anything."

Bootstrapper is Mardi Jo Link's story of her love of her sons and her farm, the things that kept her going during that difficult year. And, the love for Owen, Luke and Will shines through on every page. "It's one thing to inventory your blessings; it's another to care for, love, and nurture them in all the ways they deserve." 2005-2006 was a difficult time for Link and her sons. But, their survival, and the way they worked together makes for a fascinating memoir. As things went from bad to worse during that year, they clung to each other. That story of struggle, and a mother's love and effort for her sons, and with her sons, becomes a powerful, memorable account.

Mardi Jo Link's website is

Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm by Mardi Jo Link. Alfred A. Knopf. 2013. ISBN 9780307596918 (hardcover), 208p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I picked up an ARC at BEA because the book sounded interesting.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Tarnished and Torn by Juliet Blackwell

Juliet Blackwell mixes reality and witchcraft beautifully in her Witchcraft mystery series featuring Lily Ivory.  Now, in Tarnished and Torn, Lily confronts the father that abandoned her years earlier. But, Lily doesn't know if her powerful father is on the side of good or evil.

As a witch, Lily was shunned in her Texas hometown, so it's a treat to have a girls' day out and attend a Gem Faire at the COW Palace. However, Lily has some uneasy feelings as she walks through the show. One man  makes her uncomfortable. She gets some funny vibes from Griselda, a woman selling jewelry. Something feels out of place. And, when fires erupt during the show, Lily's familiar, Oscar, shows up in his Vietnamese potbellied-pig form to warn her. He felt the threatening presence of demons. Even with all the uneasy feelings, it still came as a shock to Lily when she found Griselda dead, pressed to death as they used to torture witches.

Lily suspects that Griselda was trying to send her a message, but the few pieces of jewelry she picked up at Griselda's booth give her no clues. But, someone else suspects that Lily knows more than she does. San Francisco seems to have attracted some strong forces. That includes Lily's father, a powerful figure who clashed with her when she tracked him down as a teen. Lily just isn't sure if her father is there to oppose the uprising evil forces, or to help them.

Juliet Blackwell's Tarnished and Torn is fascinating, as much for Lily's story as for the witchcraft and demons. As a young girl, Lily was shunned in her hometown, deserted by her parents. And, her one meeting with her father did not end well. "Okay, I have a few father issues. Abandonment. Anger. Guilt. Fear." As Lily struggles to help a couple young women, she envies their relationships with their mothers. The story is as much about Lily's attempt to build a community for herself, and then her efforts to protect that community, as it is about witches and demons. Good vs. evil is a powerful element of Tarnished and Torn.At the same time, Blackwell's latest mystery sparkles with Lily's life, the humor of Oscar, and a little romance. In other words, the book sparkles with Blackwell's outstanding storytelling skills.

Juliet Blackwell's website is

Tarnished and Torn by Juliet Blackwell. Obsidian. 2013. ISBN 9780451240095 (paperback), 325p.

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