Monday, September 30, 2013

Ghost Gone Wild by Carolyn Hart

There are a number of otherworldly characters in mysteries nowadays, but I can't think of any spirits that narrate the stories themselves, except for Bailey Ruth Raeburn. Bailey Ruth died along with her husband, Bobby Mac, when their boat was lost in a storm in the Gulf. Now, she's a special emissary from Heaven's Department of Good Intentions, charged with lending a helping hand to someone on earth. Only Carolyn Hart could create this good-hearted spirit with a love of fashion. And, this time, Hart has Bailey Ruth hi-jacked in  Ghost Gone Wild.

When a woman on a black horse rides up, hands Bailey Ruth a ticket to the Rescue Express, and insists a young man needs help, Bailey Ruth assumes Wiggins, the stationmaster,  has a new assistant. It's only when Bailey Ruth saves an angry young man who was the target of a shooter, and finds she can't disappear, that she discovers something is wrong. It seems that Nick Magruder's Aunt Dee, Delilah Delahunt Duvall, knew her nephew was in trouble, but she couldn't violate the rules about interceding to help family. So, she hi-jacked Bailey Ruth, and without Wiggins's knowledge, sent her to Oklahoma to help her nephew.

Bailey Ruth is trapped on earth, with no money, no ID, and worst of all, in her opinion, no change of wardrobe. And, she's stuck with an angry young man who returned to his hometown to get revenge. But, someone is determined to cause trouble for Nick, and his long-running feud with a former high school enemy can only end up in tragedy. Bailey Ruth has to rely on her her own ingenuity, although sometimes Dee is a reluctant assistant. Nick may be obnoxious at times, but he doesn't deserve to be framed.

Carolyn Hart always finds new ways to surprise readers. If it isn't a ghost as a sleuth, it's another ghost riding  in on a black horse to try to save the day.  Ghost Gone Wild combines humor with an intriguing mystery. Why is someone out to get Nick Magruder, and who is the real killer? In this case, the humor adds so much to the story. Bailey Ruth and Dee bicker throughout the story; Bailey Ruth can't rely on Dee to be there, and they make an unlikely team. Despite her plans to send Bailey Ruth to earth, Dee is a stickler for the rules, Wiggins' Precepts for Earthly Visitations. Bailey Ruth can easily break three of the Precepts in her first twenty minutes on earth. And, then there's Bailey Ruth's preoccupation with her appearance and her wardrobe. She delights in the ability to change her wardrobe on a whim, and her inability to change her clothes is probably her biggest complaint about being earthbound. And, Bailey Ruth interacts with people on earth in ways that Wiggins' would never approve.

Looking for a mystery with a little romance, a suspenseful story, and great humor? If you don't mind an otherworldly sleuth, you won't go wrong with Carolyn Hart's Ghost Gone Wild.

Carolyn Hart's website is

Ghost Gone Wild by Carolyn Hart. Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425260753 (hardcover), 308p.

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

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Stolen Hearts by Jane Tesh

I'm a big fan of Poisoned Pen Press. The books they publish usually have an unusual slant. Somehow, I missed Jane Tesh's Grace Street series. The third one, Now You See It, is due out any day. But, like many other mystery readers, I like to start at the beginning of the series. Stolen Hearts, a mystery with  a wonderful cast of quirky characters, is the first of the Grace Street books.

Daniel Randall is struggling to go on with life after the tragic death of his daughter, Lindsey, in a car accident. His marriage ended, and his second marriage left him looking for a place to live at the same time he quit his job working for a detective agency. Daniel really is alone in the world except for his psychic friend, Camden. But, Camden and Daniel have always had a special connection, so it doesn't seem to be an accident when they end up in the same convenience store, and Camden invites him to move into his house on Grace Street in Parkland, North Carolina.

Things are looking up a little for Daniel, as Cam predicted. As soon as he moves in, he has his first client for his new detective agency. He's the sole employee, working out of Cam's house, but the request is better than his recent cases involving cheating spouses. His first client asks him to find a notebook that will prove her great-grandmother was a songwriter, and not just the girlfriend of a songwriter. Melanie wants to prove her ancestor wasn't a thief who then committed suicide. A second client wants him to find the gold heart-shaped locket that disappeared from her bedroom. Cases, an office in his temporary home. It's too bad that Daniel has a hard time appreciating what he has. He knows what he has lost.

This Grace Street mystery introduces the fascinating, quirky people who live at Cam's house, or revolve around his home. Those intriguing characters begin with Daniel and Cam, friends who are both trying to discover how to make a family and a home. Then there are the residents of Cam's house. I absolutely loved Angie, the newest arrival, a calm, outspoken woman. She's the one who summarizes the residents of 302 Grace Street. "What's really going on around here?...There's a beauty queen whose folks don't care where she is, an old man who looks like he's got mold growing on him, a little guy who sees things, and a struggling private detective who looks like some TV star."

Yes, Stolen Hearts involves mystery and murder. It's not a violent story though. Instead, it's a refreshing story with a cast that reminds me of the eccentric residents in the novels of Armistead Maupin. Stolen Hearts is a novel that beautifully combines melancholy and humor, and leaves a little hope that David and Camden may someday find happiness.

Jane Tesh's website is

Stolen Hearts by Jane Tesh. Poisoned Pen Press. 2011. 9781590589397 (paperback), 247p.

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

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Simon's Cat vs. The World by Simon Tofield

If you haven't seen the Simon's Cat cartoons on YouTube, then you aren't familiar with Simon's Cat. Simon Tofield is an illustrator, animator, and director in London, England, whose YouTube cartoons featuring a cat and his animal friends and put-upon humans have over 350 million views.  Simon's Cat vs. The World is the latest collection of cartoons showing the world from a cat's viewpoint.

It's difficult to describe a book of cartoons. Cat lovers will recognize the antics of their own cats on these pages. "Housework" features the cat climbing his owner who is vacuuming. As a new cat in the household, Josh once climbed a closed window, bounced off that, knocked over a lamp and broke it, and scratched me as he leaped on me to get away from the vacuum cleaner. Oh, yes. I recognized my cat in that cartoon.

How many owners have put clothing on their cats? There's a cartoon of the cat in a novelty hat, and the cat doesn't find it nearly as funny as his owners do. Then, there's the cartoon of the woman trying to do yoga next to the stretching cat. Failure. Can you picture a beanbag chair after a cat claws it open?

Tofield's latest collection comes with stickers, and even contains lessons in drawing cartoon cats. Most of all, Simon's Cat vs. The World brings laughs of recognition for cat lovers everywhere.

And, just for entertainment, here's Simon's Cat. Check out other cartoon films on YouTube.

Simon Tofield's website is

Simon's Cat vs. The World by Simon Tofield. Akashic Books. 2013. ISBN 9781617751882 (hardcover), 96p.

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

Friday, September 27, 2013

Winners and Award Winners Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Judy D. of Buena Park, CA won Jenn McKinlay's Cloche and Dagger. Paige Shelton's If Bread Could Rise to the Occasion goes to Diane H. from Peoria, AZ.

This week, I have two wintry books to give away by award-winning authors. Louise Penny just won the Macavity and Anthony Awards for last year's Armand Gamache mystery, The Beautiful Mystery. Who wants to win an Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) of this year's #1 New York Times bestseller, How the Light Gets In? It's another superb mystery set in Three Pines. Here's a warning, though. If you enter to win, and haven't read the earlier books in the series, you have to go back and start with Still Life. How the Light Gets In is a part of a series that progresses, and you really should read the earlier books.

Or you could win G.M. Mallliet's A Fatal Winter. Malliet is an Agatha Award-winning author. I think her Max Tudor mysteries are terrific. They feature Tudor, an MI5 agent turned Anglican priest in a small British village. When a Lord and Lady are found dead in Chedrow Castle, the arrival of a group of greedy relatives doesn't help the murder investigation. Louise Penny's fans may enjoy this series.

Which mystery set in winter would you like? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win How the Light Gets In" or "Win A Fatal Winter." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end Thursday, Oct. 3 a 6 PM CT. Good luck!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sister Mother Husband Dog, (etc.) by Delia Ephron

Delia Ephron, author of the essay collection, Sister Mother Husband Dog, (etc.) would probably appreciate my reactions to her book. First, I liked it better than her sister, Nora's, collection,  I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. I liked it better because I could relate to her question, "With sisters, is the competition always marching side by side with devotion?" And, because I could understand that statement, I reached out to my sisters to tell them about the book.

It's obvious that Delia was still struggling with the pain of losing her sister, Nora, when she wrote this book. The book begins with Nora and circles back to her. As the oldest and the most famous of the four Ephron sisters, Nora seemed to dominate the relationship with her younger sister. But, as Ephron points out, she was raised to be a writer, to put everything out there, and she shares her feelings and relationship with her sister, even when she's not sure how she should feel.

Ephron's essays are not all about her sister, but Nora and Ephron's mother are the dominant figures in the collection. And, she's careful to point out that these are her feelings, based on her relationship with her mother, and not necessarily the feelings of her sisters. Delia talks about the feelings of the daughter of alcoholics, and the daughter of a demanding mother.

"Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog." Ephron covers all those topics. However, my favorite chapter was "Blame It On the Movies." I can live with her comment, "Housecleaning is only worth doing to the pointt hat the place is clean enough that no one notices it's not." And, as much as I could relate to Ephron's comments about sisters, love, and competition, it's this chapter that I wanted to share with my sisters. Nowadays, women sometimes complain that Disney movies give their daughters the wrong idea of romance and happily-ever-after. Delia Ephron blames her lost twenties on a movie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I howled when I read this chapter. She goes on and on for pages, telling the entire plot of the movie she has seen over thirty times. "I was young and vulnerable and innocent when I first saw Seven Brides. I took my heart into that theater and lost it." I called my sisters. What girl of a certain age didn't lose her heart to that movie? My sisters and I shared it. We may have all been looking for those good-looking men in that movie, but, unlike Delia Ephron, none of us wanted to be the servant to seven men. It's a hilarious chapter for anyone who saw and loved that movie.

Delia Ephron's book, Sister Mother Husband Dog, (etc.),  is beautifully written, with her trademark wit and turn of phrase. It will make you think with your heart. It made me reach out to laugh with the sister I could reach last night, and my Mom. It did what the best books do. It drew me into her world, and made me see mine a little differently.

Delia Ephron's website is

Sister Mother Husband Dog, (etc.) by Delia Ephron. Blue Rider Press. 2013. ISBN 9780399166556 (hardcover), 240p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library Book

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Milkshakes, Mermaids, and Murder by Sara Rosett

If you follow my blog regularly, you know I can't stand sleuths who are "Too Stupid to Live". Those are the characters, usually women, who risk their life, go out to meet a villain in the middle of the night without telling anyone, and, quite often keep secrets from the police. I've always respected Sara Rosett's Ellie Avery because she sometimes gets in trouble, but it's not because she's stupid. And, she does everything she can to protect her family. She might be out of her element, away from her husband and friends in the latest mystery,  Milkshakes, Mermaids, and Murder, but everything she does is to protect her family.

As Ellie Avery packs for the family trip to the Florida Gulf Coast beaches, she has two disappointments. Her husband, Mitch, is stuck in Canada, with a downed military plane, and the purse she ordered turns out to be the wrong one, a fake. Who would think the second  problem would blow up into a murder investigation? The seller, Angela, is from Florida, so she offers to run over  to Ellie's hotel with the right purse. But, Angela never shows up at the hotel. Ellie's brother, Ben, once dated Angela, and they both think it's odd she didn't show up after her phone call. When they find her cell phone, they decide to track her down. But, they arrive at her place just in time to find Angela's body in the pool. Even though Ben and Ellie are convinced Angela was murdered, the police don't believe it. And, when Ellie tries to turn over the purse as evidence, it's rejected as nothing important.

A simple knock-off purse leads to more trouble than Ellie could ever expect in Florida. But, when that purse puts her family in danger, Ellie takes action. Somehow, she'll protect her family and find out why that purse led to murder.

Sara Rosett's Milkshakes, Mermaids, and Murder takes readers to the beaches of Florida where celebrities frolic in nightclubs. But, as beautiful as the beaches are, the story focuses on Ellie. She's my kind of sleuth. She's as careful as she can be, while still searching for answers. And, there comes a point in the book where she realizes she was running around without a plan. At that point, she decides to apply her skills as a professional organizer to find a killer. Ellie Avery remains in character as the wife, mother, and organizer that she is.

Check out Ellie Avery's latest adventure in Milkshakes, Mermaids, and Murder. She's an ordinary woman caught up, once more, in extraordinary events

Sara Rosett's website is

Milkshakes, Mermaids, and Murder by Sara Rosett. Kensington Books. 2013. ISBN 9780758269225 (paperback), 320p.

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Devil Laughed by Gerrie Ferris Finger

Gerrie Ferris Finger takes on a cold case with a little different angle in her latest Moriah Dru/Richard Lake mystery, The Devil Laughed. The couple ends up in northern Georgia, in "One of those counties where people deal their own justice", and they just don't know who to trust in their search for answers.

It was supposed to be a 4th of July getaway for the busy couple. Moriah, the owner of Child Trace, a private investigation agency, and Lake, a homicide cop, hoped to relax at Judge Portia Devon's. But, when Moriah spies a submerged boat, the trip turns into a trip into the past. Four years earlier, the Scuppernong, a sailboat with two couples on it, disappeared. Johnny Browne's body had shown up, but the other bodies never did. Rumors were that Candace Browne and Laurent Cocineau might have killed Laurent's wife and disappeared together. But, Candace's daughter, Evangeline, doesn't believe her mother was dead, or that she had killed anyone, and the wealthy young heiress is prepared to pay for answers.

Money talks, and Moriah finds herself with a twelve-year-old as a client, as she searches for a missing woman.. When she finds out how controlling Evangeline is, and sees the reactions of the townspeople to her investigation, Moriah thinks, "I had sold my soul for a hundred grand." As the couple talks to people who all seem to be related to each other, people who are determined to keep secrets, Dru and Lake grow more certain there are deadly secrets to uncover. Someone knows what happened to the people from the Scuppernong.

Finger creates a fascinating case for Moriah Dru, but gives her one of the most demanding, obnoxious clients in a mystery. However, Evangeline's character works for this story. What doesn't work as well is the large cast of northern Georgia characters who are all intermarried and connected. It's difficult to keep the cast straight. The connections between the people who disappeared are also difficult to keep together. Saying that, the mystery of the Scuppernong is intriguing. The black humor common to cops and detectives permeates the novel. It's perfect for this book. Moriah Dru and Richard Lake are the best part of the mystery, two strong characters who work well as a team.

Take a trip into northern Georgia, where the townspeople hid deadly secrets, and The Devil Laughed.

Gerrie Ferris Finger's website is

The Devil Laughed by Gerrie Ferris Finger. Five Star. 2013. ISBN 9781432826970 (hardcover), 300p.

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

October Book Chat

Readers seemed pleased with the list of books featured in the book chat, so here are the October cozy mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian.

Poisoned Prose by Ellery Adams - 5th in the Books By the Bay series
Buried in Bargains by Josie Belle - 3rd in the Good Buy Girls series
Murder at Hatfield House by Amanda Carmack - 1st Elizabethan mystery
Golden Malicious by Sheila Connelly - 7th in the Orchard mystery series
Drizzled with Death by Jessie Crockett - 1st Sugar Grove mystery
Murder and Marinara by Rosie Genova - 1st Italian Kitchen mystery
Afoot on St. Croix by Rebecca Hale - 2nd Mystery in the Islands
Final Catcall by Sofie Kelly - 5th in the Magical Cats series
A Finder's Fee by Joyce and Jim Lavene - 5th in the Missing Pieces series
Chili Con Carnage by Kylie Logan - 1st Chili Cook-Off mystery

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Skeleton in the Family by Leigh Perry

The first book in Leigh Perry's new series is one of the most unusual mysteries I've read in a long time. And, that's a good thing. If you like cozy mysteries, I urge you to pick up A Skeleton in the Family. If you can accept all those mysteries with people who solve mysteries with the help of a ghost, why not a skeleton? Georgia Thackeray and Sid make a terrific team. It's an entertaining mystery involving a very special friendship.

Georgia was lucky her parents were on sabbatical so she could stay in their house when she and her daughter, Madison, moved back home. It's not easy being a single mother with a teenage daughter, moving from university to university as an adjunct professor. And, she hates to see her daughter so happy at school, knowing them might have to move again. But, right now, Georgia is home with Sid, the family skeleton. Sid is a walking, talking, wisecracking skeleton, who has been with the family since Georgia was six and he saved her. Now, it might just be time to find out who Sid was before he showed up in Georgia's life.

When Sid accompanies Georgia to a anime and manga conference, he's started to see a woman he recognizes. With no memory of his past, he doesn't know why the woman brought up feelings of fear and guilt. Sid wants answers. Who was he, and how did he know that woman? But when she's found dead, they're more determined than ever to find answers. They just don't realize that a killer has a few skeletons in a closet, and won't hesitate to find a way to silence two amateur sleuths.

There have been a number of ghosts as amateur sleuths or assistants for the sleuth, but the team of Georgia and Sid is definitely a first. Sid uses puns and wordplay to make fun of his situation, and it's part of the charm of the book. But, A Skeleton in the Family is actually unusual because of the depth of feeling, the great friendship between Georgia and Sid. Perry explains that friendship realistically. The book is a winner, not just because of the mystery plot, but because of that special relationship between the characters.

If you read cozy mysteries regularly, and sometimes feel as if they start to sound the same, pick up A Skeleton in the Family. I know I'm already waiting to read Sid and Georgia's next adventure, and it will probably be a year from now. I"m not going to miss it.

(Note: When the author saw me mention the book, she said I could tell any readers that liked Toni L.P. Kelner's mysteries that she is Leigh Perry. She also said, if you didn't like Kelner's books, never mind.)

Leigh Perry's website is

A Skeleton in the Family by Leigh Perry. Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425255841 (paperback), 291p.

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

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Weekend Reading

So, what are you reading this weekend? I'm starting Saturday sitting in the garage getting new tires, so I'll have some reading time. I've just started Robert M. Edsel's The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. It's about the men whose mission was to rescue Europe's art treasures from the Nazi's looting machine. The movie will be out later this year. George Clooney is the producer and one of the stars, along with Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and John Goodman. I hadn't heard of the book when I first heard about the movie, but it led me to the book.

What are you reading this weekend?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Winners and a Couple Cozy Favorites Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Vicki Delany's A Cold White Sun will go to Karen C. of Cleburne, TX, and Linda Castillo's Her Last Breath goes to Linda B. of Elk River, MN. The books will go out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away cozy mysteries by two favorite authors. They were both fun books. Jenn McKinlay launched her new Hat Shop mystery series with  Cloche and Dagger. After an embarrassing video goes viral, an American moves to London to take over her share of the hat shop she inherited with her cousin, only to find that cousin missing, and a dead society woman wearing a hat from the shop.

Or you could win Paige Shelton's latest Country Cooking School mystery, If Bread Could Rise to the Occasion. As a new school year starts, Gram and Betts are surprised when a young man shows up, claiming he was expected in the class. They can work around that, but the murder of a class member, and the appearance of a ghost who shared a past with Gram add up trouble.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I'll need separate entries. Email me at Your subject entry should read either "Win Cloche and Dagger" or "Win If Bread Could Rise to the Occasion." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only please.

The contest will end Thursday, Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. CT. Good luck!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Murder of a Stacked Librarian by Denise Swanson

Romance, a winter wedding, Christmas celebrations with the family. If it all sounds like a holiday romance,
guess again. Not only does Denise Swanson pull off all the romantic elements in her latest book, she manages to pull off murder as well. I hope Murder of a Stacked Librarian hasn't landed on the New York Times Best Seller list because of the victim. No, can't be. I'm sure it's because mystery and romance are combined in Swanson's new Scumble River mystery.

School psychologist Skye Denison knew she could only get away for a honeymoon in the summer or at Christmas. The whole time she's hiding out in the library, Skye thinks she might have made a mistake picking Christmas. But, then, she wouldn't have been there when Yvonne Osborne was fending off the gym owner who was a little too pushy when he wanted her to go out with him. She might not have known about his threat when Yvonne's car goes over a bridge on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, it isn't long before Skye and her fiancé, Police Chief Wally Boyd, realize there are a few people who weren't happy with the hot librarian. And, "The only thing worse than nobody having a motive is when everybody has one."

Well, I don't know. Right now, with her emotional pre-wedding jitters Skye can think of things worse than murder. "Was she prepared for all the missed holidays and lonely nights?" She is marrying the police chief. But, why didn't he tell her about the sexy woman at the shooting range? Then, there's Skye's pushy mom, May, who never did like Wally as a husband for her only daughter. May seems strangely subdued right now. And, then there's the ghost that haunts Skye's house.

Denise Swanson manages to combine mystery, holidays, and a wedding in he charming sixteenth novel in the Scumble River series. As always, the story is filled with family, friends, and a little humor to accompany the murder investigation. And, no matter how funny some of the scenes are, and how involved the characters get in the case, Swanson doesn't forget to add the human touch to the case and the romance. Skye and Wally do want justice for the victim. And, even in the midst of a case, they keep their love and the wedding plans front and center. It's those touches that bring readers back to the series.

(Let's face it. Who isn't a sucker for a romantic wedding? In fact, Swanson's wedding scene was so beautiful, it brought a tear. And, it isn't often I cry over a mystery. Maybe I can get away with saying I cried because the victim in Murder of a Stacked Librarian, rather than I cried at a wedding in a mystery. What do you think?)

Denise Swanson's website is

Murder of a Stacked Librarian by Denise Swanson. Obsidan. 2013. ISBN 9780451416506 (paperback), 272p.

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman

Do you remember Dr. Seuss' To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street? It's the story of a young boy's exaggerated account of his walk home from school so he has something to tell his father. Now, Neil Gaiman switches things around in a story for older children, probably about seven or eight. In  Fortunately, The Milk, it's the father of the family who goes out for milk and has stories to tell his children when he gets home.

The narrator's mother went on a business trip, reminding the father to buy milk. But, it isn't until the next day when the two children have nothing to put on their breakfast cereal that he remembers. And, they wait, and they wait, and he has quite a story to tell when he finally returns.

The father brings together all kinds of favorite creatures to explain his absence. Young readers will enjoy the humor of the combination of time travel, aliens, dinosaurs, pirates, hot air balloons, vampires, and even ponies. It's an imaginative account that might become a favorite as readers guess what Father might encounter next. But, like other favorite children's stories, rest assured that Father does arrive home safely, with the milk.

I was lucky enough to get an autographed copy of Fortunately, The Milk when I was in New York City this year, and I waited until publication week to comment. It's a fun adventure, with that extra twist Gaiman is known for. And, Gaiman says it's an apology to fathers for an earlier book, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. This time, he tries to tell that fathers do more than read the newspaper. Who would ever guess the adventures fathers have when they go out for milk?

Neil Gaiman's website is

Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman. Harper. 2013. ISBN 9780062224071 (paperback), 128p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The book was given away at a conference.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cold Tuscan Stone by David P. Wagner

As a retired Service Officer who spent nine years in Milan and Rome, David P. Wagner brings his love and knowledge of Italy to his debut mystery,  Cold Tuscan Stone. His atmospheric story is filled with descriptions of Volterra, a city in Tuscany.

Rick Montoya's father was an American diplomat married to an Italian. With his love and knowledge of Italy, it was natural for Montoya to become a translator. And, he finally made the leap and moved to Italy from New Mexico. But, he was a little surprised when an old friend from high school contacted him. Beppo was now in the Ministry of Culture, and thought Rick's background was perfect for a job. Beppo wanted him to go undercover to Tuscany in the search for illegal sales of Etruscan antiquities. Since Rick had always been fascinated by the stories his Italian uncle, a police officer, told him, he agreed to work with the police.

Montoya arrived in Volterra with a list of three people to contact, and was told to check in with the police. But, he was only there one day when a man was found dead, and Rick was the last known person seen with him. Now, it seems everyone in Volterra knows Rick is an American translator who was the last one with the dead man. Even so, Montoya decides to go on with his visits to the suspects. However, he's a little naive, and doesn't realize what kind of danger he may be in as he agrees to meet with suspects. It's an undercover job that could wrong at any minute.

Cold Tuscan Stone is an atmospheric debut mystery, with the emphasis on the locale. Wagner wraps the history of the area into wonderful descriptions of Volterra. However, when it comes to character development, it's obvious this is a first novel. While Rick Montoya is likable, there is no depth to the characters, and the cast is extremely large and complicated for a debut mystery. All of the suspects, naturally, have Italian names, and similar occupations, so it wasn't easy to remember who they were. And, I didn't really understand what Rick saw in his demanding girlfriend. The characters do need some polish.

Despite its weakness when it comes to characters, Cold Tuscan Stone will appeal to those who enjoy atmospheric mysteries. And, it's only my opinion, but knowing that Poisoned Pen Press is the publisher is one more reason to have high expectations for the future. David P. Wagner's publisher is known for excellent mysteries, and I'm sure he'll be brought along as an author. So, try Cold Tuscan Stone now for the descriptions of Italy, knowing that the characters will probably develop in the future.

David P. Wagner's website is

Cold Tuscan Sun by David P. Wagner. Poisoned Pen Press. 2013. ISBN 9781464201929 (paperback), 212p.

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

Over the years, I've found some of Sue Grafton's Kinsey MIllhone mysteries to be fascinating, and I never finished some of them. But, the stories are never dull, and Grafton has changed styles, added characters, developed Kinsey's background without taking her out of the 1980s. It can't be easy to write about the same character for 23 books. In W is for Wasted, Kinsey deals with some interesting topics; homelessness, addiction, and medical research. And, she finds out a little more about her background along the way.

Two deaths in 1988 impacted Kinsey's life. She knew one of the dead men, while the death of an unknown man, and her discoveries, changed her life. She knew Pete Wolinsky, a somewhat shady private detective who was shot on a Santa Teresa beach. She didn't know the man who ended up in the morgue with her name and address on a slip of paper in his pocket. But, never introduce a mystery to a private detective with time on her hands. The dead man was homeless, and Kinsey became obsessed with finding out who he was. That search led to a safe deposit box. "And just like that, the lid to Pandora's box flew open. It would take me another day before I understood how many imps had been freed."

Kinsey Millhone's questions lead to a connection between the two deceased men, although neither knew the other. Grafton skillfully intertwines Kinsey's current search for answers in the death of the homeless man with Pete Wolinsky's last case. For those of us who have followed the series, though, the most interesting developments are the new facts about Kinsey's background. For years, she never thought she had a family after the death of her parents when she was five. And, she certainly didn't know anything about her parents and their backgrounds. But, someone remembered her family, and came looking for her.

W is for Wasted is a difficult book to summarize without spoiling the book. Since Kinsey is the narrator, the reader should be just as surprised as she is to uncover the elements of the mystery. Saying that, this is one of the more appealing books in the series, touching on issues in society, and Kinsey's background. If you're one of those readers that pick up some of the books in this series, you'll want to read this one.

Sue Grafton's website is

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton. G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2013. ISBN 9780399158988 (hardcover),496p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, September 15, 2013

True Hollywood Noir by Dina Di Mambro

Hollywood always seems larger than life, and the death of celebrities seem larger, too. Dina Di Mambro, a
film historian and entertainment writer, takes a look at some of the memorable deaths there, covering almost eighty years of the twentieth century. The result is an intriguing book filled with black and white photographs, True Hollywood Noir: Filmland Mysteries and Murders.

Di Mambro's introduction sets the stage beautifully. 'Film Noir - translated from French as "black film" - is a genre that encompasses the elements of highly charged sexuality with cynical male characters, femme fatales, and moral ambiguity.' The author sees the deaths of a dozen celebrities in the same way, crimes that revolve around sex, money, and violence. In the early years, there were studio cover-ups, corrupt cops and attorneys, and bribery. "From 1922 until 2001, this book explores some of the most fascinating scandals, mysteries, and murders in Filmland history."

The book starts with the early years in Hollywood, and murder cases and deaths that were covered up by the studios. In fact, Di Mambro doesn't pretend to have the final answers. Instead, she summarizes the stories behind each death, quoting people involved and books that have already covered the tragedies. Then, she allows the reader to judge for himself or herself.

What really happened to Jean Harlow's husband? Did George Reeves, TV's Superman, really shoot himself? Were the deaths of Gig Young and his young bride actually a murder/suicide? And, it's fascinating to read about three deaths I remember, those of Bob Crane, Natalie Wood, and Robert Blake's wife.

If you're curious about Hollywood history, fascinated by the tragedies and crimes involving stars, True Hollywood Noir is a good starting point. Dina Di Mambro brings the victims and possible suspects to life through the accounts and the photographs. She opens the vaults to stories that Hollywood studios once tried to cover up in True Hollywood Noir: Filmland Mysteries and Murders.

True Hollywood Noir: Filmland Mysteries and Murders by Dina Di Mambro. The Cadence Group. 2013. ISBN 9780615572697 (paperback), 258p.

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

Saturday, September 14, 2013

New Arrivals

Well, I'm not going to tell you about the paperback mysteries that arrived this week from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian. I'm saving those for the monthly book chat. I do have eight other books to share, though. I'll talk about those in order of publication.

Sara Rosett's Milksahes, Mermaids, and Murder is already out. I always enjoy the Ellie Avery mysteries, but I should really enjoy this one since Ellie plans a family getaway to Florida's Gulf Coast, a place I know well. How could a simple visit to an eBay vendor end up in murder and kidnapping?

October 1st is release date for Carolyn Hart's latest Bailey Ruth ghost novel, Ghost Gone Wild. (Don't you love the cover?) Once again, Bailey Ruth returns to Earth as an emissary from Heaven's Department of Good Intentions. She saves a young man from killing himself in Adelaide, Oklahoma, but it seems her mission isn't complete. She just might have to stay in Oklahoma forever if she can't find the person who wants that young man dead.

Hijack in Abstract is the third Cherry Tucker mystery by Larissa Reinhart. Due out on Nov. 5th, artist Cherry Tucker finds her career on the rise, with a classical series sold and a portrait commissioned. But the composite sketch she draws for the sheriff, a picture of a hijacker, finds her life taking a bad turn as the sketch leads to a murder.

The blurb says that Sage Stossel's graphic novel, Starling, "turns the classic male superhero on his head." It's
"The rare graphic novel that is not only penned by a woman, but also has a female protagonist." Amy Sturgess' life in the big city comes with a few problems a conniving co-worker, family crises, and a lousy love life. That doesn't mean she can't use her superpowers to fight crime as a masked vigilante, Starling. This one is released on Dec.3.

Joseph Wallace's Invasive Species is a thriller about a predtor coming out of the remote African wilderness where the rainforest is dying. The massive swarm is moving across the globe, using humans as hosts in a wave of death. "Humanity's only hope lies with a small band of scientists, doctors, and adventurers who must find a weapon to battle a living, killing force before it can conquer the world." Release date is Dec. 3.

Maggie Barbieri's Once Upon a Lie, is a departure from her Murder 101 series. The thriller will be released on Dec. 10. Maeve Cordon's life is coming apart at the seams, but when her cousin is murdered, and the police start poking around in family business, it becomes a hassle. But when her father becomes a suspect, her father who is suffering from Alzheimer's, Maeve is determined to clear his name.

Jan. 28 is release date for Sophie Hannah's novel of horror, The Orphan Choir. Louise Beeston can't see her son who has been shipped away o a prestigious boarding school where he sings in the boys' choir. Now, a rowdy neighbor makes her life miserable by blasting choral music at all hours of the night, but she's the only one who can hear it. When she desperately tries to escape the ghostly music, she grows obsessed, unsteady, and her family life begins to unravel. Is this a neighbor's malicious prank, or a warning just for her?

And, the last book is a debut novel, Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszille. It's a mother-daughter story of
reinvention about an African American woman who unexpectedly inherits an eight hundred acre sugarcane farm in Louisiana. Charley Bondelon sees it as a chance to start over with her daughter, so the two leave LA and arrive just in time for growing season. The blurb says, "As the sweltering summer unfolds, Charley must balance the overwhelming challenges of her farm with the demands of a homesick daugher, a bitter and troubled brother, and the startling desires of her own heart." Release date is Feb. 10th.

Don't you love the discovery of new books? It's always fun to see what's arriving.

Friday, September 13, 2013

What are you reading on Friday?

On Twitter it's called #FridayReads. It's Friday Reads on Facebook. It's a chance to talk about what you're reading. I tend to ask this question on a Friday following a Thursday board meeting.

I've just started two books, both mysteries, but very different styles so it's easy to keep them apart mentally.W is for Wasted  is the new Kinsey Millhone by Sue Grafton. Cold Tuscan Stone is a debut mystery by David P. Wagner. I have high hopes for it because the publisher is Poisoned Pen Press, one of the best in the business when it comes to mysteries. It features Rick Montoya who moved form New Mexico to Rome, settling into the life of a translator. When he helps an old school friend by going undercover to find antiquities traffickers, he ends up as a murder suspect.

So, what are you reading this Friday?

Winners and a Favorite Author Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Sandy G. of North Plainfield, NJ won Carole Nelson Douglas' Cat in an Alien X-Ray. And, Kathy G. of Warsaw, IN won The Cat Sitter's Cradle by Blaize & John Clement.

This week, I'm giving away books by a couple of my favorite authors. A Cold White Sun is the latest Constable Molly Smith mystery by Vicki Delany, but as I said when I reviewed it, you don't have to have read earlier books in the series to enjoy this one. While Molly struggles with her personal life, and helps Sergeant John Winters, he's involved in a tough murder investigation. Who would want to kill an English teacher while she's on a hiking trail? It's another terrific atmospheric mystery from Delany.

Speaking of atmosphere, Linda Castillo's thrillers are set in Amish country in Ohio. In Her Last Breath, Police Chief Kate Burkholder investigates the hit-and-run accident that killed most of an Amish family. Kate's childhood friendship with the victims' wife and mother makes her even more determined to find the person responsible for the deaths of an innocent family.

Which book would you like to read? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win A Cold White Sun" or "Win Her Last Breath." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end Thursday night, Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. CT.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn

I'm a big fan of Chet, the dog in Spencer Quinn's Chet and Bernie mysteries. I totally agree with Stephen King that Quinn speaks dog fluently. Quinn takes his detecting pair out of Arizona, sending them to Louisiana for the latest mystery,  The Sound and the Furry.

Once again, Chet is the narrator. Bernie and Chet have an unusual client, Frenchie Boutettes, a prisoner they caught. When they run across Frenchie on a work crew, he asks them to find his missing brother in Louisiana, promising them three grand. After Frenchie's wife delivers the money, Bernie is surprised when a large detective agency offers him a high-paying job in Alaska. Bernie's too honorable, though, to dump a client, and refuses. Is that the reason a gang member shows up in Bernie's driveway? Just don't attack Bernie with Chet around. There's a reason Chet and Bernie are partners.

After a trip across country, the pair arrive in bayou country in Louisiana where they can't seem to find anyone to give them a straight story, even the family of the missing man. And, what's with the feud between the Boutettes and the Robideaus, a fight that goes back to the Civil War? Bernie doesn't know who to trust in this strange world, and even tells Chet, "We're in a madhouse."

It is a madhouse between feuds, birds covered in oil, a missing shrimp shipment, and gangs. In fact, the book is so filled with odd cast members and events that it seems to lack continuity. Even Chet becomes a little dull in this book. Usually, he's the comic relief as he loses the thread of their conversations and the case, dreaming of some dog activity, such as eating. However, this time, Chet seems to lose the thread of the case constantly, and it seems to be overkill.

I love Chet. However, The Sound and the Furry doesn't do him justice this time. The story drags on, and, unfortunately, drags Chet down with it.

Spencer Quinn's website is

The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn. Atria Books. 2013. ISBN 9781476703220 (hardcover), 311p.

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

Everyone has a different idea of humor, so Jim Gaffigan's Dad is Fat won't be for everyone. But, it's clean
humor based on Gaffgan's life as a stand-up comedian, husband, and father of five. Oh, and he and his family live in a two bedroom fifth floor apartment in the Bowery in Manhattan. Put all of that together, and it's a comedy act in itself.

I enjoyed the humor in this book, but I'm sure the sister who recommended it enjoyed it even more. Like Gaffigan, she really was one of those parents who actually pulled the car over to talk to her kids. I was with her once. She's a fantastic mother with a great sense of humor, and I can see why any parent who enjoys their kids would appreciate this book. It's evident that Gaffigan loves his wife and kids. He hates to be away from them when he's on the road, so he takes them with him on a tour bus, even renting hotel rooms for two nights so the kids can use the pool, while sleeping in the bus at night.

The humor, though, comes from Gaffigan's views of parenting and family life. He talks about how ill-equipped and overwhelmed he is as a parent, while admiring his wife's natural ability as a mother. He sees himself as the Vice President of the family, with no skills or authority.

Not being a parent, some of my favorite chapters actually had little to do with parenting. Both sides of my family had reunions during the holidays and summers, so I loved his chapter, "My Other Family", and the talk about cousins. I have something like forty first cousins on my mother's side, and I'm just about in the middle. So, having older cousins, it was fun to read, "Little kids love their cousins. Cousins are like celebrities for little kids. If little kids had a People magazine, cousins would be on the cover."

But, my favorite chapter had to be "A Critical Analysis of Children's Literature". Anyone familiar with children's picture books, as a parent who read them a zillion times, or a teacher or librarian familiar with them, will love Jim Gaffigan's summary of familiar titles. I've read every book he analyzes, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Giving Tree, Caps for Sale. I may never read them again without thinking of Jim Gaffigan.

Looking for an evening of light family humor? You might just want to try Jim Gaffigan's Dad is Fat. And, since my sister was laughing hysterically and made me watch his Hot Pockets video, I'll share that with anyone who wants to watch the routine that made him famous.

Jim Gaffigan's website is

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. Crown. 2013. ISBN 9780385349055 (hardcover), 274p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Wrong Girl by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Hank Phillippi Ryan's books never disappoint. Her Charlie McNally mysteries featuring a TV investigative reporter in Boston were always terrific stories. She's gone onto greater success with the new series featuring newspaper reporter Jane Ryland and Police Detective Jake Brogran. Last year's  The Other Woman won the Mary Higgins Clark Award and is a nominee for four other mystery awards. Honestly? Her new book, The Wrong Girl, is even better than The Other Woman. It's riveting, fast-paced, and each chapter launches the reader headlong into another chapter of action and suspense.

When Tucker Cameron was fired from the Register for sleeping with a source, it was a warning for Jane. Both she and Detective Jake Brogran knew their careers were safe only as long as their relationship remained a secret. Now, Tuck was demanding Jane's help with some screwy story about her birth mother not really being her birth mother. It was hard for Jane to stay interested in Tuck's strange account when there were real stories out there. Take the story that Jane covered on a snowy February day. Jake and his partner, Paul DeLuca, were called to handle the case of a woman killed in her kitchen, leaving a three-year-old and a one-year-old behind. All the media showed up for the news conference. Leave it to Jane to ask the crucial question. Who called 9-1-1?

And, leave it to Jane to get enough information to receive a threatening phone call. It was that call that led to her suspension for a few days from the paper while the powers-to-be decided how to handle it. So, she had time to devote to Tuck's story that an adoption agency sent her to find her mother, only for Tuck to know something was wrong. Jane's heart just isn't into Tuck's investigation. That threatening phone call, a break-in at her apartment, and a truck following too close on the road, lead Jane to suspect she's close to finding answers in the story of the woman killed in her kitchen.Tuck's simple comment that she was "The wrong girl" in the adoption match-up leads Jane Ryland on a strange path. While Jake is handling too many murders associated with an adoption agency, while trying to find answers in his original case, neither Jake nor Jane have enough time to consult each other, and realize their cases are leading in the same direction.

Ryan wrings every ounce of suspense out of this compelling story, and just when the reader thinks it's heading in one direction, she twists it again. The Wrong Girl is a dramatic story that keeps the reader turning pages faster and faster, trying to put together all the pieces of the puzzle. In this case, there are too many odd pieces that don't fit until Jake and Jane come together in a dramatic conclusion. Ryan, an investigative reporter herself, knows how to write a story that forces the characters, and the reader, to follow leads in a story. In this case, a reporter and a police detective work beautifully together. Ryan's style of allowing each of them to tell what they uncover carries the reader along, uncovering the clues right along with Jane and Jake. The Wrong Girl is a suspenseful story, and one of the must-reads of the fall for any of us who like action-packed suspense with a team of characters. Hank Phillippi Ryan never misses a step in this complex, beautifully written novel.

Hank Phillippi Ryan's website is

The Wrong Girl by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Tom Doherty Associates. 2013. ISBN 9780765332585 (hardcover), 368p.

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

Monday, September 09, 2013

All You Could Ask For by Mike Greenberg

Mike Greenberg manages to introduce three very different women in All You Could Ask For, and then bring them together as friends. They never would have been friends if they hadn't found their way to a place they all needed. The women found themselves sharing confidences on a breast cancer forum. Greenberg, the co-host of the sports radio show, Mike & Mike, and his wife, Stacy, lost a beloved friend, Heidi, to breast cancer. Greenberg has not only written a novel about women with the disease, but the couple has done more. In conjunction with the publication of the book, they created a foundation called Heidi's Angels, through which all profits from the sale of the book will be donated to The V Foundation for Cancer Research to combat breast cancer.

The first half of All You Can Ask For introduces Brooke, Samantha, and Katherine. Brooke is happily
married, has two children, and lives in Greenwich, Connecticut. Her family is just what she always wanted in life, and she does everything she can to maintain that wonderful marriage and family. Katherine has spent twenty years accumulating wealth on Wall Street, working for the man she once loved who dumped her, while cursing him every morning. And, Samantha, the youngest of the three at twenty-eight, discovers on the second day of her Hawaiian honeymoon that her new husband has a picture of a naked woman on his computer, and it's not her. Each of these strong women will have to learn what is important to them, and make tough decisions in their lives. It's not simple to make decisions when it comes to cancer.

Three strangers who come together because of one common link, breast cancer. Although many novels feature a cast with one character who has cancer, and usually dies from it, leaving the rest of the characters to mourn, this novel is different. Brooke, Samantha, and Katherine all handle cancer in their own ways. And, it may surprise readers as to some of the solutions. It's those unexpected decisions that make the novel interesting.

All You Could Ask For fulfills its purpose by calling attention to breast cancer, and the strong relationships women develop to help each other through rough times. The flaw in the novel comes from the use of four-letter words, which will definitely turn some readers off. It's a shame that Greenberg chose to create one character in particular who persisted in using the f-word as a mantra. It's particularly a shame because that disappeared in the second half of the book when the focus changed to life style changes and knowing what was important in life. However, I know of two readers who decided not to go on with the book because of the language.

Mike Greenberg does force readers to examine their own lives with the question, "What makes life worth living?" It's obvious that his characters, faced with the possibility of their own death, might search for answers. Is life about family? Is it about possibilities? Is it about the moment? All You Could Ask For presents three women with choices in their own lives. And, it forces readers to examine their own lives, thinking about choices. And, isn't that as much as any author could ask for?

There's a short video that accompanies the book, with Mike Greenberg discussing it with his wife and two friends.

Mike Greenberg's website is, and his Twitter account is

All You Could Ask For by Mike Greenberg. William Morrow. 2013. ISBN 9780062220769 (paperback), 264p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I was sent the book in order to participate in a TLC Book Tour.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

What are you reading?

So, what are you reading this weekend? I'm finishing up two books. I'm reading Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence for a book club on Monday night. And, I'm finishing Mike Greenberg's All You Could Ask For for a blog tour on Monday.

When I finish, I'm reading Hank Phillippi Ryan's new book featuring Boston newspaper reporter Jane Ryland. I'm looking forward to reading The Wrong Girl.

What's your weekend reading? And, out of curiosity, are you reading a book in paper format, ebook, or audio? Whatever it is, I hope you're enjoying it.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Devil's Night by Todd Ritter

Here's where I give my pitch for a mystery author who should be better-known than he is. Todd Ritter writes some of the most interesting mysteries out there. They feature a small-town police chief struggling with the violent crimes that are so unexpected in her town. Ritter's mysteries all have twists in them, unexpected turns at the end, but perfect turns.  Devil's Night, the third in the series, is just as intriguing as either of the earlier ones. So, if I tell you to go back and pick up his first one, Death Notice, and follow it up with Bad Moon, one of my favorite books of 2011, I hope you take my word for it. These traditional mysteries feature a small town knocked on its heels by evil. But, each time, a strong, scared police chief, with help from friends, picks the town up again by finding a killer.

Kat Campbell is police chief in Perry Hollow, Pennsylvania, and she's been through some rough times in the last year or so. Now, in an exhausting twenty-four-hour period, she has to deal with "fires and corpses and skeletons hidden beneath the floor."

It's 1 a.m. when Kat is awakened by sirens. The town's history is up in flames in the form of the Perry Hollow Historical Society and Exhibition Hall, the museum. But, suspected arson isn't the worst of it. When Kat enters the building to try to save historical artifacts, she finds the body of the president of the historical society. It's only later that she learns the murder victim was protecting a trunk with a skeleton in it. And, written on the victim's hand are the words, "This is just the first."

The first murder? The first fire? Kat doesn't have a long time to find answers. As fires break out, she's afraid vigilantes will start looking for the culprit. She's happy to have the assistance of two friends from previous cases, a cop turned private detective, and her friend, Henry Goll, who had disappeared earlier, only to return as a reporter covering a local story for an Italian newspaper. A small town cop needs friends to lean on, but she still has to rely on her own courage and intelligence.

Kat Campbell is a fascinating character. She's the daughter of a former police chief in Perry Hollow. She's a single mother whose wonderful son, James, has Down syndrome. And, Ritter is careful to point out the difficulties of a single mom who is also the police chief. It's Kat's personal life that creates the realistic tone of these stories. Then, she's surrounded by a wonderful cast of wounded characters, who manage to work with her to defeat evil. And, the crimes in Perry Hollow are gritty ones, but there's nothing pretty about murder.

Devil's Night is a compelling mystery. But, trust me when I say you should go back and start with Death Notice. Todd Ritter's Perry Hollow may suffer from unusual crimes. But, once you've read that first book, you'll want to continue with Police Chief Kat Campbell, and her friends. Ritter's books are traditional mysteries set in a small town, with a police chief trying to right an upside-down world. As I said, a little gritty. No one does it better. Discover Todd Ritter's Perry Hollow and Kat Campbell. I don't think you'll regret it.

Todd Ritter's website is

Devil's Night by Todd Ritter. Minotaur Books. 2013. ISBN 9781250028532 (hardcover), 340p.

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

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Butler: A Witness to History by Wil Haygood

I've heard a couple people say the movie, The Butler, wasn't quite what they expected. I think they should try the book. Wil Haygood wrote the original article that led to the making of the movie. Now, in The Butler: A Witness to History, he tells the actual story of Eugene Allen, the White House butler whose story was fictionalized for the movie

In the days of the Obama campaign, Haygood was looking for someone who had worked in the White House, who had lived through the history that led to Obama's historic campaign. It took him a while to track down Eugene Allen who had been a butler at the White House for thirty-four years in eight presidential administrations from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. "He was both a witness to history and unknown to it", a man who saw the civil rights movement as few others did, from within and outside the White House.

Haygood's fascinating little book is in two parts. The first is the story of the story of Haygood's search for Eugene Allen, and Haygood's subsequent visit with Allen and his wife, Helene. The second part seems to have come about as a result of the movie, The Butler. It's a look at blacks in cinema, again a very interesting part of the book.

Wil Haygood's The Butler: A Witness to History is the story of a discreet, charming man. And, admittedly, he wrote the book after the movie was filmed. There are a number of pictures, first of Eugene Allen and Helene, then scenes from the movie itself. I haven't seen the movie, but, from what I've heard, one of my favorite buttons sums it up. "The book was better." If you're interested in the true story, maybe not embellished and fleshed out, try the book.

The Butler: A Witness to History by Wil Haygood. Atria. 2013. ISBN 9781476752990 (hardcover), 96p.

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

Winners and a Cat Mystery Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Woof at the Door will go to Trude V. from Pasco, Washington. Margit C. of Boise, ID won Hiss and Hers. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm giving away two mysteries involving cats. The Cat Sitter's Cradle is the latest Dixie Hemingway mystery by Blaize and John Clement. In the course of her daily schedule of pet-sitting, Dixie is stunned to find a newborn baby in the bushes. So, she's soon caught up in harboring the mother, an alien. But, it's just one problem after another for Dixie when she finds a body at an executive's house.

Or, there's a mystery about another cat and another type of alien, Carole Nelson Douglas' Cat in an Alien X-Ray. Midnight Louie and his feline cohorts are determined to help his roommate, PR expert Temple Barr as the Las Vegas gang goes on a science fiction roller-coaster ride. They encounter UFO enthusiasts when a Area 51 attraction on the strip threatens to bring more than starry-eyed enthusiasts to town. It's up to Midnight Louie to keep his crew in line and save them from the attack of creatures from beyond - or common criminals that prey on the innocent.

Which book would you like to win, The Cat Sitter's Cradle or Cat in an Alien X-Ray? You can enter to win both, but I need separate separate entries. Email me at Your subject entry should read either "Win The Cat Sitter's Cradle" or "Win Cat in an Alien X-Ray." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end on Thursday, Sept. 12 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Isabella Alan, Guest Blogger

This week, under the name Isabella Alan, Amanda Flower launches a new mystery series. Murder, Plain and Simple is the first Amish Quilt Shop Mystery set in Holmes County, Ohio. Angela Braddock inherits her aunt's Amish quilt shop, Running Stitch. Her aunt's quilting circle makes her feel welcome, but it isn't long before Angela is a murder suspect.

Today, I'd like to welcome Angela Braddock, interviewing author Isabella Alan. And, don't forget to enter the contest to win an authentic Amish quilt.

Angie Braddock from the Amish Quilt Shop Mysteries Interviews her author

Angie: Hi, Isabella, thanks for meeting with me today. You know, you are a really hard lady to pin down. You seem to spend a lot of time being “Amanda Flower.”

Isabella: Well, Amanda is the name on my birth certificate, so…

Angie: Mere technicality. To me you are Isabella, and I’ve got some questions for you.

Isabella: Okay. [nervous laugh]

Angie: When you told me, “Hey, great news, you are moving to Ohio’s Amish Country,” you left out a few things.

Isabella: Like what?

Angie: For starters, you didn’t tell me that some of the Amish in Holmes County didn’t want me to take over my Amish aunt’s quilt shop, Running Stitch. A little notice on that would have been nice.

Isabella: Sure, some people don’t like you, but most do. Nobody is loved by everybody all of the time. I’m trying to keep my fiction realistic.

Angie: Realistic? That’s your excuse?

Isabella: Besides I gave you a wonderful support group. The Amish quilting circle from Running Stitch is there to support you through everything. You will not find a better group of friends in Martha, Anna, Sarah, and Rachel. And of course, there is Oliver, your Frenchie. He’s charmer.

Angie: I’ll admit that Oliver is the best dog ever, and you’re right about the quilting circle. They really care about me.

Isabella: And what about Sheriff Mitchell? He’s not bad either. Those blue-green eyes. Swoon.

Angie: [eyes narrow] You made him up because you like blue-green eyes.

Isabella: I don’t have crushes on fictional characters. That would be weird.

Angie: Sure, you don’t. Let’s get to my most pressing question. Why exactly do you keep putting dead bodies in my path?

Isabella: I’m a mystery writer. That’s what they pay me for.

Angie: You torment me like this for money!

Isabella: Umm… maybe that came out wrong. I love mystery writing. I put the bodies in front of you for the love of the craft.

Angie: Love of the craft [snorts]. At least tell me the next time I will stumble into a dead body.

Isabella: June 2014 when Murder, Simply Stitched releases. So, you know, come spring, watch your step. I might have a few other surprises for you then too.

Angie: [sighs]

It’s SUPER SEPTEMBER! Amanda Flower (also writing as Isabella Alan) has three novels releasing in September 2013. To celebrate, she is giving away an authentic Amish Quilt hand-stitched by Amish in Holmes County, Ohio.

Enter to Win an Authentic Amish Quilt from author Amanda Flower! Click here to Enter!

Follow Amanda on Social Media at: Facebook Twitter Goodreads Pinterest

Follow Amanda’s alter ego Isabella on Facebook

Murder, Plain and Simple by Isabella Alan. Obsidian. 2013. ISBN 9780451413635 (paperback), 358p.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Louise Penny Follow-Up

"Louise Penny is #1 on the NYT Best Sellers List for 09/15"

I received that email today, and I just want to congratulate Louise. How the Light Gets In is a magnificent book. But, Louise herself is even more special. It's wonderful to see a #1 ranking for an author, and a friend, who I love.

Congratulations, Louise.

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

"Service, Integrity, Justice." That's more than the motto for the Sûreté de Québec. That could be seen as the
personal motto for Louise Penny''s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. And, never more so than in her powerful, tense novel How the Light Gets In. Gamache truly lives by that motto, despite opposition in the highest ranks of the Sûreté. The Sûreté "was now a culture that rewarded cruelty. That promoted it."

In fact, everyone in the Sûreté knows that the once powerful Gamache has been stripped of his staff, assigned officers who don't care. So, it's a relief when he's called to the village of Three Pines. Myrna, the owner of the bookstore, was expecting a friend for the Christmas holidays, and she never showed. A missing person case doesn't usually go to the chief homicide investigator, but Gamache was willing to ask a few questions. And, Gamache's questions led to one of the biggest media stories Canada had seen in the twentieth century.

But, it's the other case Gamache works on that could shake up the country. Everyone in the Sûreté knows the story of how Gamache once brought down powerful figures in the force. But, someone is still pulling strings.  With a few well-chosen allies, Armand Gamache is determined to uncover the evil that pervades the force.

Light and dark. Good and evil. Corruption and honesty. Louise Penny has always dug into opposing forces in the world. In The Beautiful Mystery, she foreshadowed some of the troubles of How the Light Gets In. One foreboding statement hung over that entire book, Matthew 10:36. "And a man's foes shall be of his own household." That quote is echoed in the course of this latest mystery, but Louise Penny always leaves room for the light, for hope. In fact, it's a quote from Leonard Cohen that offers hope, and provided the title for the book, "There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

There's no crack of weakness in any of Louise Penny's mysteries. Once again, she has written a beautiful, compelling story, one with more tension than many of the previous books. Every time I review one of the Armand Gamache mysteries, I restrain myself from revealing too much. The nine books in this series must be read in order, and they lead up to the powerful confrontations in this novel.

While reading this book, I copied so many lines that are worth sharing. There are some that summarize the entire series. "The question that haunted every investigation was 'why'." It's a question that has haunted this entire series. Why is Gamache hated by his superiors? 

I can't discuss the storyline without giving away the story. However, I can discuss moments in this book, quiet passages that exemplify Louise Penny's beautiful writing. Every word is carefully chosen to move the story on, or to build a character's personality. Armand Gamache has always been a man who honors the victims. In this case, when visiting the victim's home, he picked up the book she had been reading. "He opened it to the bookmark and deliberately turned the page. He read the first sentence. Words...would never get to. As a man who loved books, a bookmark placed by the recently dead always left him sad." That's a quiet moment in a tense story, but a moment that shows the kind of man Armand Gamache is.

Time and again, Armand Gamache has investigated murders in Three Pines. "Do you know what I've learned after three decades of death? I've learned how precious life is." Three Pines has become a place of refuge, an escape, and it provides that refuge again. "Perhaps, like the snow, the tiny village had fallen from the sky to provide a soft landing for those who'd also fallen."

Over the course of nine books, Louise Penny has given readers gifts; gifts of the charming village of Three Pines filled with its unique characters, compelling mysteries involving Armand Gamache and his officers, intriguing stories of Québec told in beautiful, carefully chosen words. Now, she answers questions of "why" in a story that left me breathless with its power. How the Light Gets In is a triumphant story of light and hope. And, it's a story of one man's knowledge of where his passion and strength, his belief in "Service, Integrity, Justice" came from. Armand Gamache saw that truth in his dog, Henri. "He realized Henri already knew all he'd ever need. He knew he was loved. And he knew how to love."

Louise Penny's website is

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny. Minotaur. 2013. ISBN 9780312655471 (hardcover), 416p.

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