Thursday, October 31, 2013

Christmas on 4th Street by Susan Mallery

Every time I pick up a Christmas book this year, I think, "It's too early!" However, it's never too early for a Susan Mallery book and a visit to Fool's Gold, California. Christmas on 4th Street can be read any time of year.

Noelle Perkins really did need a reason to start life over again. She spun around; put a pin in a map, and ended up in Fool's Gold, California where she opened a store, The Christmas Attic, over the Labor Day weekend. College students aren't the most reliable help in the world, though, but when she put up a "Help Wanted" sign, she didn't expect to end up with a gorgeous army trauma doctor, Gabriel Boylan, working for her.

Family holidays were not always easy for Gabriel. This would be the first one in years with his twin brother, Gideon, Gideon's fiancee, and their son. But, he'd also have to spend time with his father, the drill sergeant who never did understand Gabriel. Maybe, Gabriel could escape from the family by doing a mindless job at The Christmas Attic. At least he could escape from his emotions, his compassionate fatigue. He might not be able to escape his feelings for the store's owner, though.

Noelle was all set for a relationship, "Just what every woman needed for the holidays, she thought dreamily. A man crush." But, Gabriel doesn't believe in second chances. He's afraid of giving his heart, and losing someone he loves. This is Fool's Gold, California, though, where Mayor Marsha steps in when she sees a need. Fool's Gold could use a trauma doctor, and Noelle and Gabriel need someone to love them.

Christmas on 4th Street is a Christmas romance, and that means a happy ending. That's why Christmas books are a treat. If you're ready for happily-ever-after in a charming little town that knows how to celebrate holidays, friendship and love, pick up Susan Mallery's latest Fool's Gold novel.

Since my sister, Christie, finished the book before my review appeared, I'm adding her comments here. " Here's my final summary of Christmas on 4th Street.  I reserved it because it was a Christmas book and the holidays were really only part of the story. As someone who likes to read a series in order, it worked okay as a stand alone and now I want to go back and see what I missed, but it will be like reading the last chapter first, and I was never one to do that.  I don't want to know how it ends until the end.  I like the character of Nichole.  Her attitude was great. Susan Mallory really seemed to have a sense of what it is like in the army and I appreciated the reflections that he (Gabriel)  didn't get to see the outcomes of his patients."

Thanks, Christie!

Susan Mallery's website is

Christmas on 4th Street by Susan Mallery. Harlequin. 2013. ISBN 9780373777822 (hardcover), 329p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes by by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Elizabeth J. Duncan brings back her wonderful characters manicurist turned spa owner Penny Brannigan and Detective Chief Inspector Gareth Davies in her series set in Wales. In  Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By, the pair travels to a church conference at Gladstone's Library in North East Wales, where they are both to be speakers. Instead, they end up dealing with a murder investigation.

From the moment that a church secretary decides to take advantage of secrets she uncovers, the reader knows that idea won't end well. But, the woman had a few ideas as to how she could make a little money, so it takes a little time to uncover the killer. But, a second death, and the story surrounding it are totally unexpected.

Penny Brannigan has always been one of my favorite characters because of her attitude toward investigating as an amateur sleuth who is seeing a police officer. "I've learned that the best thing to do is just tell him everything and let him decide what's important. It drives him crazy when people know something that actually turns out to be important and didn't tell the police because they didn't think it was relevant." That's my kind of sleuth, one who doesn't hide evidence from the police.

Saying that, Never Laugh as Hearse Goes By is my least favorite of the books in this series. I didn't like that the librarian gave out information to Penny, even though she said she shouldn't because it was a privacy issue. The story line of this mystery felt weak. Perhaps it was the setting away from the usual stomping grounds, although some of the regular characters did show up at the library. And, I wasn't happy with the change in Penny's personal life. However, I can accept Penny's decision, because Duncan made that decision true to the character.

Maybe the story line with a manicurist as an amateur sleuth has actually run its course. I don't know. Despite the weaknesses in Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By, I'm not giving up on Elizabeth J. Duncan and Penny Brannigan.

Elizabeth J. Duncan's website is

Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By by Elizabeth J. Duncan. Minotaur Books. 2013. ISBN 9781250008251 (hardcover), 293p.

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Throw the Damn Ball by Rosen, Prichett, and Battles

If you've ever seen the hilarious books Bad Cat and Bad Dog, you'll know what to expect from R.D. Rosen, Harry Prichett, and Rob Battles. Now, with a little inspiration from poets such as Emily Dickinson, Dylan Thomas, and Robert Frost, the trio gives us an unusual anthology.Throw the Damn Ball: Classic Poetry by Dogs allows family pets to reflect on dog issues such as mealtime, playing fetch, and the death of dogs they don't like. And, for some reason, the adolescent humor seems appropriate for dogs.

This gift book is definitely for the dog lover in your life who appreciates a little raw, dog humor. But, it won't hurt if the reader has a knowledge of classic poetry to truly appreciate the wit. (I'm afraid my knowledge isn't as broad as it should be. I recognized some of the poems, and missed others.) Each dog has a moment to shine, with an odd photo, their name, and their hometown.

I'd love to share all the pictures and poems, but I can't. So, here's just one, with a poem most of us will recognize. Jet, from Nashville, Tennessee, has a poem called "Island".

"No dog is an island.
Every dog's death diminishes me.
Except perhaps for Stanley,
The Hoffendahls' mean Akita.
I'm better off with him dead."

If you catch the humor in titles such as "Do Not Go Gentle", "To My Short-Legged Mistress", or "Whose Ball This Is I Think I Know", you might appreciate the verses.

Oh, one more. After all, the publisher sent me the book to review. You do want to know what the humor is like. So, here's my favorite, "Whose Ball This is I Think I Know" by Sprocket.

"Whose ball this is I think I know.
I make him throw and throw and throw.
Some will, no doubt, think him a fool
To play the role of dog-whipped wretch
And expose himself to so much drool
As he makes me fetch and fetch and fetch."

Gift for the dog lover with a wicked sense of humor? I've already sent my copy on to a friend.

Check out more at

Throw the Damn Ball: Classic Poetry by Dogs by R.D. Rosen, Harry Prichett, and Rob Battles. Plume. 9780142180853 (hardcover), 117p.

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Carl Brookins, Guest Blogger

Last week, I reviewed Carl Brookins' mystery, The Case of the Purloined Painting. It's my pleasure
to welcome Carl as guest blogger today. He's going to talk about where he gets his ideas, and discuss that mystery. I'm afraid when I read the book, I missed one of the connections he makes in this guest piece. I know I was shocked at the time it happened, but when I read Brookins' novel, I failed to think of our recent history. I'm glad he brought it up in today's blog. Thank you, Carl.

Where do your plot ideas come from? by Carl Brookins 
 I frequently hear that question and its variations from my audiences. I have developed several responses, some almost as creative as my novels. My responses are more or less satisfying, depending, I suspect, on the expectations of the questioner. One of my responses is that I make ‘em up as I go along. Some ideas are born out of real events. Some I suspect, are born out of a bottle, but that’s a different sort of essay.

Not too long ago, one of my nieces told me a bizarre tale about a man who owned property near them. One dark night for no known reason he apparently took the controls of a nearby bulldozer and drove it erratically down a very steep incline. He managed to fell many trees and crossed the private property of several understandably irate neighbors. Law suits ensued. In my story, the ‘dozer man is murdered, presumably by one or many of his highly offended victims. But in my tale there are motives and there are motives and the resulting story is almost as twisted as the path of destruction the dozer carved down that hillside.

In 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the great destruction being wreaked on Europe from the bombing and soon to be invasion of Nazi occupied territory. He and others worried about the potential loss of cultural history. Paintings and some sculpture could be moved from harm’s way, but not cathedrals. In Italy, Monte Cassino was destroyed by the Allies due to faulty intelligence. The question arose: could such a disaster be avoided while still prosecuting the war effectively? A unit was formed to advise bomber command and, later, General Eisenhower’s commanders. Trains carrying plundered art were not strafed, cathedrals and churches and large statuary were protected as best they could be. The unit was called “The Monuments Men.” There was a documentary, a book and soon a feature film.

Fast forward to 2003. American forces have swept into and occupied significant parts of Iraq and Baghdad. With martial law not yet established, looters raid the museums of the city and abscond with thousands of ancient and irreplaceable artifacts from the earliest human developments in that part of Asia. Many of those artifacts have never been located or returned. I was shocked and disheartened. Had we learned nothing from our history? Where was the thoughtful American government, thaty could have been working to preserve the cultural icons of the Muslim nation?

Those incidents and history gave me the idea for a story that would be much smaller and more personal and would, I hoped, focus a little attention on the importance of finding and restoring to rightful owners, the cultural and art treasures appropriated during wartime. Hence, “The Case of the Purloined Painting.”

A friend of mine, a good mystery writer, suggests that authors are like cosmic vacuum cleaners. We observe and take in all sorts of detritus and bits left lying about by friends and acquaintances. We watch you and we remember and record and then we massage and twist and think and use those bits to fashion words and sentences and whole plots. I heard a phrase passed between two vendors while walking through the airport at Minneapolis. It was so rich and indicative of an action that I wrote it down and used it in a story. It is said that Raymond Chandler put all sorts of made-up words in the mouths of his characters. It is further said that the words were so descriptive and powerful some of them became the street jargon of cops and robbers. Read a Loren Estelman detective story set in Detroit and you’ll be introduced to a whole different language, a jargon that gives the stories verve and authenticity.  But is it real?

My story ideas come from life, from experiences, from daily contacts with other humans. That’s why I’ll never run out of them. Ideas. Like most authors, my story ideas and my plots come from the universe.

Carl Brookins' website is

The Case of the Purloined Painting by Carl Brookins. North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc. 2013. ISBN 9780878397082 (paperback), 166p.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tempest at the Helm by David Hunter

When you want to read a police procedural that sounds authentic because the author knows what he's talking about, I'd suggest David Hunter's  Tempest at the Helm. He's a decorated former police officer who brings his experience to his writing.

Shiloh Tempest had an up-and-down career in law enforcement. He had an attitude, and wouldn't keep his mouth shut, but it was hard to not promote a man with his track record. When his heart started to give out on him, though, he was forced to take early retirement at forty-five, and became a bestselling novelist. But, when his friend, Sam, became Sheriff of Knox County, Tennessee, Tempest came back as Chief of Detectives. Chief of Detectives was fine. Acting Sheriff wasn't so good. A conference in the Bahamas meant Tempest was put in charge with only one request. "Can I depend on you not to arrest the mayor or anyone else of similar importance?"

Tempest tried, but when Mayor Cooper's wife was shot to death in their bedroom in the middle of the night, it's hard to avoid looking at the mayor as a suspect. Fortunately, Shiloh has a reliable team who will work with him to find the killer.

Shiloh Tempest is a refreshing voice in police procedurals. He's irreverent, doesn't suffer fools, and he and his team get the job done. He's loyal and hardworking, everything a reader wants in the Chief of Detectives. He has a wonderful relationship with a strong woman, Jennifer, who has been his companion for twenty years, although she refuses to marry. He shows respect for her, and he's still smitten after all that time together.

For those of us who enjoy following the police step-by-step in their investigation while getting to know the main characters, David Hunter's Tempest at the Helm is a welcome treat.

David Hunter's website is

Tempest at the Helm by David Hunter. Oconee Spirit Press. 2013. 978098410974 (paperback), 176p. (also available s an ebook)

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

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What are you reading today?

So, what are you reading this weekend? I'm finishing up a police procedural. David Hunter's Tempest at the
Helm, features Shiloh Tempest,who  finds himself in charge of the Knox County Police Department. Two murders later, Tempest is just waiting for his boss to return.

What are you reading this weekend?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Winners and Going to the Dogs and Cats Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Linda Barnes' The Perfect Ghost will go to Margaret F. of Elmhurst, IL, and Sharon B. of Albuquerque, NM won Carolyn Hart's Ghost Gone Wild. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm giving away a dog and a cat mystery. Let's start with the latest Chet and Bernie mystery by Spencer Quinn, The Sound and the Furry. Chet, the detecting dog, and his owner and partner, Bernie, head to the bayous of Louisiana looking for a missing man. It's a case that involves feuding families, environmental problems, and a world of new scents for Chet.

Or you could win The Cat Sitter's Cradle by Blaize and John Clement. Dixie Hemingway, a pet sitter in Siesta Key, Florida, discovers an exotic bird. She also finds a mother hiding in bushes, a mother who has just given birth. When one of Dixie's clients is found dead, and that mother and baby disappear, Dixie is drawn into a whirlwind of danger.

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

The contest will end Thursday, Oct. 31 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bran New Death by Victoria Hamilton

I just love to read the first book in a mystery series by an author I already like, and then discover that the second series is just as good. Victoria Hamilton is the author of the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries. Now, she kicks off the Merry Muffin series with  Bran New Death. A brand new set of characters, a brand new fun setting, and a lot of possibilities for future mysteries. One of the highest compliments I can give a book is that I felt satisfied afterwards. Bran New Death is satisfying.

Merry Wynter has lost almost everything. She was once quite well off between her career as a plus-size model, and her marriage. But, she unwisely invested her inheritance from her late husband, and she lost a highly visible job. At thirty-nine, she is desperate to get away from New York City, so she heads to upstate New York to the odd little town of Autumn Vale where she had inherited a castle.

But, the rumors about Merry's new property are almost as odd as the town itself. When she stops in the local bakery, she discovers the owner blames Merry's late Uncle Melvyn for her father's death. And, someone is digging holes all over the grounds surrounding the castle. The grounds and the castle are both going to need some work if Merry is going to sell it. And, even as she has someone filling in the holes during the day, someone else shows up in the bulldozer at night to try to dig holes again. But just because he's found dead in one of those holes doesn't mean Merry, the stranger in town, killed him.

With the arrival of her best friend, Shiloh, Merry has an ally. And, just because the sheriff's mother recruited Merry to make muffins for the local retirement home, it doesn't mean she's in the clear. Instead, she's going to have to ask a few questions, and sift through the town's rumors to ensure that she's not the second Wynter accused of murder.

My sister, Christie, writes short notes to me in which she talks about the cozy mysteries we both like. And, we both complain about characters who are "too stupid to live", and run around investigating while getting in trouble. Merry Wynter is not "too stupid to live". She's a refreshing character, a big woman, a widow, and thirty-nine. The setting is also unusual, an old castle that is perfect for future storylines. Why did I mention Christie? Because she summed this book up beautifully. She read it before me, dropped me a note, and, now, I'm including her comment. "Iseems like I write when I complain about a book, so this time I will write and tell you about one I liked.  I just finished Bran New Death. It is supposed to be the first in the Merry Muffin series, but the muffins really are a minor part of the story.  This didn't quite follow the "formula" and that made it fresh. There is a lot of potential for future books, in fact, it sort of ended with a promise of what is to come and some unanswered questions. There were good characters and she didn't run off and do stupid stuff."

Christie hit the nail on the head. There are a number of different ways this series could go. Bran New Death launches a delectable new series with appealing characters, a charming castle, and appetizing recipes. This one might be even more enticing than the Vintage Kitchen mysteries.

Victoria Hamilton's website is

Bran New Death by Victoria Hamilton. Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425257735 (paperback), 291p.

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Chat - November's Cozy Mysteries from Penguin

Well, I'll admit that this month it's almost as much Jinx as it is books. He's such a ham. So, if you don't like cats, you might want to skip this book chat.

Here's the list of titles covered, though.

A Potion to Die For by Heather Blake - 1st Magic Potion mystery
Words with Fiends by Ali Brandon - 3rd Black Cat Bookshop mystery
Charms and Chocolate Chips by Bailey Cates - 3rd Magical Bakery mystery
The Thrill of the Haunt by E.J. Copperman - 5th Haunted Guesthouse mystery
Read It and Weep by Jenn McKinlay - 4th Library Lover's mystery
Freezer I'll Shoot by Victoria Hamilton - 3rd Vintage Kitchen mystery
The Quotient of Murder by Ada Madison - 4th Professor Sophie Knowles mystery
Fixing to Die by Elaine Viets - 9th Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mystery

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Case of the Purloined Painting by Carl Brookins

Carl Brookins' The Case of the Purloined Painting begins with a murder, and ends with two more deaths.
In between is an interesting story of artwork stolen during World War II, and a fascinating detective. It's a mystery that would go well with the December release of the movie, "The Monuments Men".

Sean Sean is "A small PI with a large reputation" who works in Minneapolis. But, he's not sure why his latest clients picked him. First, Mr. Gerhz gave him an unusual story about looking for a woman he was supposed to meet who didn't show up. Then, a woman who only identified herself as Ann or Anne, gave him a retainer to give information to the police about a murder she witnessed. She was out walking in a February snowstorm when she saw two men push another man over the rail of a bridge. However, she didn't want to call the police. She only wanted them to know it was murder.

Sean Sean works well with the police. All the police knew is that the victim, Manfred Gottlieb, had been in a Nazi concentration camp. But, someone seemed to think that Gottlieb knew more than that. Somewhere, there might be a hidden ledger with information about artwork stolen from the Jews during the war. And, there might be a connection with a prominent Minneapolis family. Why should those few details lead someone to follow Sean, and try to kill him?

The Case of the Purloined Painting is an intriguing story, as much for the character of Sean Sean as because of the mystery itself. The PI's companion is a striking woman, an executive who owns a message therapist school, and knows her way around computers. Together, the two make an effective team. He has connections with the local police while she has connections in the local society scene. And, they share a love of mysteries. Part of the enjoyment of the book comes from the comments about mystery authors and characters.

Read Carl Brookins' The Case of the Purloined Painting for the history and characters. In the end, there are still a few mysteries to ponder in this enjoyable story.

Carl Brookins' website is

The Case of the Purloined Painting by Carl Brookins. North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc. 2013. ISBN 9780878397082 (paperback), 166p.

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

William Petrocelli, Guest Blogger

Oh, I have an interesting guest post for you today. William Petrocelli introduces us to a story about a book, and to his novel, The Circle of Thirteen. Thank you, Bill.

This is a story with a book.

The setting for this excerpt is 2047 – a few decades from now. But it’s really set further off in the future than that.
The narrator is Julia Moro, the protagonist of The Circle of Thirteen, and she is looking back to the when she was four years old. It’s her earliest recollection as a child

My first recollection is of my mother. I’ve always thought of that first memory with her as a happy one. It was a warm evening in our co-housing apartment in the Mt. Tamalpais foothills, just north of San Francisco. The window must have been open, because I remember the noise of our neighbors outside working in the community garden. My mother and I were snuggled on a daybed with the pillows propped up on one side. I was leaning against her, cuddled up under her arm. My favorite blanket was on my lap, but it was spread out so we could share it.
 . . .
In this, my happiest memory, we were reading my favorite picture book. It must have been near bedtime, because the storyline was written with an eye to getting children in the mood for sleep. It usually worked on me, but sometimes we had to go through it twice. By the time the lights had dimmed and everyone in the story was asleep—when the little mouse was seated on the windowsill, looking at the moon and the stars in the nighttime sky—I was almost asleep as well. It was a quiet, magical moment when I felt as safe and happy as all the characters in the book. I remember my mother carrying me into the bedroom and whispering something that I still can’t quite recall.

The story turns much darker after that. Julia walks around the house later on, book in hand, dragging her blanket, looking for her mother so that they can read another story together. It is at that point that Julia begins to describe for the reader the secrets of her mother’s severely troubled life. 
I’m not sure what made me structure the story this way. I typed the words furiously into the computer until the scene had run its course. Of all the scenes in the book, I think this one had the fewest revisions.

What moved me, I suppose, is the near certainty that there is a scene with a book lodged somewhere in the earliest memories of a great many children. That was certainly so in my case. I have a vivid memory of sitting on a couch in our living room, reading endlessly through a copy of the Poky Little Puppy

In the case of Julia, as you’ve no doubt guessed, she and her mother are curled around a copy of Goodnight Moon, looking for the little mouse in every scene. Since Goodnight Moon was first published in 1947, the story would be 100 years old by the time it found its way into Julia’s lap in this novel. But the story is really timeless. I have not a doubt in my mind that it will be there to delight children in 2047 and for years thereafter.
 There’s something visceral about a book that can’t be replaced. Children know it, and their parents know it as well. I’ve seen many parents yank game boxes and keyboards form the hands of their children, but I’ve never seen them do that with a book. They know that their children are holding memories.  


How far do the ripples of violence go? The Circle of Thirteen begins with a mindless act of family violence in 2008 and spans seven decades, finally culminating in the desperate effort by Julia Moro, the U.N. Security Director, to stop a major act of terror.  In this rich, textured thriller, Bill Petrocelli weaves the story around themes of poverty, political corruption, environmental disaster, and the backlash against the rising role of women.

In 2082, as a catastrophic explosion threatens to destroy the new United Nations building in New York, Julia Moro finds herself on the trail of the shadowy leader of Patria, a terrorist organization linked to bombing attempts and vicious attacks on women. One of those groups of women – the Women for Peace — was headed by thirteen bold women who risked their lives to achieve world peace and justice.

Weaving back and forth in time, this gripping narrative illuminates the unbreakable bond between strong women, providing an emotionally grounded window into the future’s unforgettable history. This is a thrilling ride that will mesmerize until the end.

William Petrocelli is co-owner, with his wife Elaine, of the Book Passage bookstores in Northern California. His books include Low Profile: How to Avoid the Privacy Invaders and Sexual Harassment on the Job: What it is and How to Stop It. He’s a former Deputy Attorney General, a former poverty lawyer in Oakland, and a long-time advocate for women's rights. The Circle of Thirteen is his first novel.

More information about The Circle of Thirteen can be found on, including tidbits about the inspiration behind the novel and Bill's event schedule. He can also be found on Twitter @billpetrocelli. 

The Circle of Thirteen by William Petrocelli. Turner Publishing Company, 2013. ISBN 9781620454145 (hardcover), 336p.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestsellers The Tipping Point and Blink, offers a very provocative look at our misconceptions with David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Among other topics, David wasn't quite the underdog we all think he was, and it may not always be in a student's best interest to get into Harvard. In fact, the discussions about our educational system are some of the most fascinating chapters in the book.

Gladwell's book actually needs to be read in its entirety. However, let's take the misconception about David, a poor shepherd boy going up the mighty Goliath, the giant from the Philistine army. In fact, Gladwell takes accounts from historians to say that slingers, warriors equipped with slingshots, were essential in armies of the time, and Goliath actually may have had health problems brought on by his giant size, and he couldn't actually even see David. It's a fascinating account. But, it's the first chapter in a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants "from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune and oppression." It's a book that suggests that those who appear weak may actually use that weakness to their advantage and become successful in doing so.

In two chapters, Gladwell looks at our educational system and our misconceptions. It's always best to get into the Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale, right? Not necessarily. Gladwell deals with students who actually failed to achieve their dreams at Harvard, students who might have been better off at their second choice of school where they could be a "Big Fish in a Small Pond" rather than one of many intelligent students who discovered for the first time in their life they weren't the brightest in class. The accounts and statistics that bear out Gladwell's theories are fascinating. What about the theory that the smaller the class size the better? Not necessarily true for the teacher or the students when no one has enough challenges.

Gladwell interviewed successful entrepreneurs and scientists who all overcame what might appear to be be disabilities or drawbacks to reach their successes. He discusses the Londoners who contradicted the fears of their behavior when London was blitzed, and the Huguenot village in France during World War II that sheltered Jews and refused to obey French laws. Time after time, he tells of people who contradicted normal beliefs in order to succeed. In fact, he asks, "What does it take to be that person who doesn't accept the conventional order of things as a given?"

Malcolm Gladwell has a way of introducing all of us to topics we might not normally read or care about. And, he makes those subjects fascinating. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is another thought-provoking, must-read book by a journalist who finds a way to make us care.

Malcolm Gladwell's website is www.gladwell.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown & Company. 2013. ISBN 9780316204361 (hardcover), 305p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman

"When it comes to sorrow, no one is immune." Alice Hoffman already knew sorrow, but she was the caretaker, not the person who suffered. She refused to admit she had breast cancer. Now, fifteen years after being diagnosed, Hoffman is a survivor who wanted to give people the kind of gift she would have liked to have had at the time. Hoffman's book,  Survival Lessons, is her gift with suggestions as to how to celebrate beauty even in the midst of trouble.

Survival Lessons is a slight book, but the chapter headings alone make reading the book worthwhile. Each chapter heading is a lesson in itself. "Choose to Enjoy Yourself." "Choose to Plan for the Future." "Choose to Love Who You Are." "Choose to Dream." "Choose to Love." Hoffman reveals her heart and her feelings about each of these lessons, and more.

Of course, this passage struck home. "In my family, a book was a life raft." I could understand everything Hoffman said about escaping with books.

Sorrow comes to everyone, whether you're the victim, a survivor, or the survivor of a victim. As I said, so many of the chapter headings were important. But, it was the overall message of the book that truly resonated with me. "There is always a before and an after. My advice, travel light. Choose only what you need most to see you through." Survival Lessons for all of us.

Alice Hoffman's website is

Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2013. ISBN 9781616203146 (hardcover), 83p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, October 18, 2013

Winners and a Ghostly Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Dana Stabenow's Bad Blood goes to Teralee EB of Tallahassee, FL, and Anna Jansson's Strange Bird will go to Kathleen F. of Lake Zurich, IL. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

It's the perfect time of year to give away ghostly books. Of course, Linda Barnes' book, The Perfect
Ghost, refers to a different type of ghost, a ghostwriter.  Em Moore is shy to the point of agoraphobia, but when her writing partner dies in a car accident, she forces herself out in the world to finish their latest project, the "autobiography" of a reclusive film director. But, there are whispers of skeletons in the man's family closet. And, then the police begin to look into the accident that killed Em's partner.

Carolyn Hart's Ghost Gone Wild does feature a ghost, Bailey Ruth Raeburn. Bailey Ruth has returned to Oklahoma a couple times as an emissary from Heaven's Department of Good Intentions. This time, though, she's sent to earth under false pretenses, only to find out she can't use her heavenly powers. Now, she and an unreliable heavenly partner have to save a young man, and Bailey Ruth doesn't know if she'll ever be able return to heaven.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject lines should read either "Win The Perfect Ghost" or "Win Ghost Gone Wild." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end Thursday, Oct. 24 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Recap, Tess Gerritsen at Daviess County Public Library

Tess Gerritsen had just finished a twenty-two city library tour of Indiana, and she ended with one stop in
Kentucky at Daviess County Public Library in Owensboro. She said her father was a chef, and she was looking forward to going out for barbeque after the program.

Gerritsen said most of the time audiences want to know where ideas for books come from, so she would talk about ideas. She said she's interested in the emotional reaction. What happens next? She goes for the punch in the gut. Gerritsen reads a lot of newspapers, and they serve as inspiration. She likes the National Enquirer because it mirrors what people care about. She also likes the crime stories in People magazine.

Here was a story from the Boston Globe. There was a woman found in a bathtub with a pill bottle beside her. It was thought to be an accidental overdose. The body was sent to the morgue. Half an hour later, she woke up. Gerritsen found that interesting and did a NexisLexis search for people who had been thought dead She found a number of stories about that. One of her friends was declared dead, and was on the way to the morgue on a gurney. The attendant banged the gurney into the door, and her friend woke up. Fifteen years later, he's still alive. Even worse, one person in New York City was about to be autopsied and woke up. The doctor was so shocked, he had a heart attack and died.

All of these stories can go in a different direction, depending what genre the author writes. If you're a thriller writer like Gerritsen, a dead person wakes up, and Dr. Maura Isles calls 911. But, the recovered corpse grabs a security guard's gun, and takes hostages in the hospital. One of those hostages is a pregnant homicide cop who is terrified she'll be discovered. A horror writer might write about zombies or vampires. A writer of spy novelist might say, ah, Jason Bourne faked his death.

Tess Gerritsen's B.A. is in anthropology, and she's always been fascinated with mummies.  There's a group in the U.S. that arranges for mummies to get cat scans. There are 300 mummies in the U.S. When a doctor friend of hers was going to x-ray one, she drove down to see the cat scan. It had taken months to arrange the x-ray. Everyone wanted to do it; the hospital, the museum. The hospital's lawyer held it up. He said in this country, we have HIPAA rules, and he wouldn't let the cat scan be done because the patient couldn't give permission. The museum had itself names the official guardian for the mummy so they could get the cat scan. When they did the cat scan, the brain wasn't there. Everyone thinks the brain is sucked out through the nose. But, first, the brain is whisked, and allowed to drip out. The heart is left, because that was considered the center of the soul. And, the other organs are removed.

Gerritsen likes to freak people out. She thought, what if a mummy was x-rayed, and someone found a bullet?That would mean it was a modern homicide victim. She used that is a Rizzoli and Isles book, The Keepsake. When Isles found the bullet, she called Jane Rizzoli. Gerritsen thought that had never been done in fiction. But someone had done it in real life. Truth is stranger than fiction. A doctor consulted on the x-ray of a mummy in India, and, when it was discovered the teeth had been removed from the female victim, they found it was homicide. The family killed her for dishonoring the family, and then decided to make money by selling it as a mummy.

The mummy that Gerritsen saw x-rayed had a broken femur. They thought that was the cause of death. It turns out that broken bones are seen a lot. It takes seventy days for a body to dry out, and then, when it's found it doesn't fit in a coffin, the legs might be broken.

Gerritsen is interested in a wide variety of topics. She follows her curiousity. And, she tries to write a plot with things unrelated that no one has put together before. Gravity is her favorite book. It's about a female astronaut stranded in space, but it's not the Sandra Bullock film.

Gerritsen put a couple ideas together. When the Mir space station spun out of control, she knew there were three men on board. If they died, the Russian command would hear them scream. The second idea came from Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. She was reading it at the same time the Mir was out of control. Krakauer said the men on the mountain in his book knew they were dying. One of them called his wife on a satellite phone to say goodbye. Can you imagine the emotion? The third element came with an article she read in a scientific journal. It was about the discovery of organisms called Archaeons. They live in extreme conditions on earth, deep in the earth and ocean.

Tess Gerritsen decided to bring the Archaeons from the bottom of the earth. What if it changed form? It uses our DNA to make it the creature it was meant to be. Gerritsen set it loose on the ISS. Most of the crew dies, and the last one alive is a woman. She has seventy-two hours to live. She's ordered to stay in quarantine to die. Her husband refuses to let her die. She told her editor about the idea, and her editor not only said write it, but gave her a check to do it. Gerritsen thought, "Oh, God. Now I have to write it."

She did research for eighteen months because she wanted it to be scientifically accurate. She loves research. She read aerospace medicine. It was pre-911, and NASA had released some documents. Gerritsen had over 1000 pages on the shuttle space manual. And, she had blueprints to the international space station that had not yet been launched. Gerritsen wanted to be accurate, though, so she called NASA. She talked to the PR person, the PAO at Johnson Space Center. (NASA stands for the national acronym agency in Gerritsen's opinion.) She tried to convince him to tell her how to make a shuttle crash, and he said that isn't what his job is. When she said everything that goes wrong is the military's fault, not NASA's, he asked when she wanted to come. Gerritsen's anthropology background came in handy. She knew the culture. People from the space program are idealistic while the military space program is the killer space program.

Gerritsen spent a week at Johnson Space Center. She wanted to freak her readers out, and she asked what the risks of space flight is. NASA tells the public that 1 out of 1000 flights will go wrong. Actually, now 1 out of 50 missions will go wrong. Astronauts know that, and when their name is listed for a mission, AP and the other news agencies start to write their obituaries. At Cape Canaveral, the Air Force has a group whose only job is to blow up the shuttle if something goes wrong over a populated area.

Tess said she asked questions about little facts. How do you do CPR in space? Blood doesn't drip in space. It forms globules. And, she still wanted to know how to make a space shuttle crash.

Gerritsen gets some of her weirdest ideas from readers. When she was on tour for Gravity, a woman who appeared to be normal told her she wanted to read about her favorite subjects, serial killers and twisted sex. When asked, she said she taught third grade. Gerritsen had never written a book with a serial killer. But, a lot of women like serial killer books with women victims. It makes them scary.

Gerritsen decided to make it a medical theme. In The Surgeon, the female heroine is stalked by a killer. The
killer was referred to as "the surgeon" because he removed the victims' organs, just like Jack the Ripper did. There was a homicide cop in the book who had a partner, a scruffy female homicide cop named Jane Rizzoli. Jane was supposed to die in the story. She wasn't a likable character in the book. She was a bitchy woman with two brothers. Tess planned to kill her. But, she was smart, and Gerritsen loves smart female characters. She started to like Jane, and when it came time to write the scene where she was supposed to die, she survived.

Tess didn't plan to write another book featuring Rizzoli. But, she had a villain named Warren Hoyt. For TV, they changed the name to Charles Hoyt because there was a Warren Hoyt in the Boston phone book, and they didn't want to get sued. Warren is an amoral character. Gerritsen was fascinated by Warren. She talked to her husband about him, and they discussed him as if he really lived, saying, "Warren would do that."

The second book featuring Hoyt was The Apprentice. Dr. Maura Isles was introduced in that book. Isles name came about because Gerritsen auctioned off a name for charity. The person who won asked that she be named for a relative. Tess grafted herself into Maura. They drive the same car. They both play piano. They have lots of things in common, but Tess has never been in bed with a Catholic priest. Tess and Maura have the same degree in anthropology. They went to the same medical school. Maura and Jane have bonded, but it's a friendship based on professional truth.

Six years ago, a TV producer contacted her about rights for the books, and she said, write me a check. It had been sold before to Hollywood for movies, but nothing happened. This time, the producer contacted her again a year later, and said we've got a pilot script and TNT is interested. We're getting ready to cast it. Then, a couple months later, "We have Jane Rizzoli. Angie Harmon certainly isn't short or scruff. Gerritsen's response was, "Jane's pretty now." But, once you've seen her, she embodies the personality just right. Now, it was time to cast Maura. The harmony between Angie Harmon and this lovely blonde, Sasha Alexander, was right. The chemistry was immediate. Sasha is more glamorous and lovely than she'd been written. The network wants them to remain good friends. They don't want men getting in the way of that friendship.

The TV series, Rizzoli & Isles, is now in the fifth season. There are eight million viewers a week. It's the first show in thirty years, since Cagney & Lacey, to show professional women in a friendship.

Tess Gerritsen's next book will be out next year. She went on an African safari, and was told, don't get out of the jeep. If you get out of the jeep, animals will see you as prey. And, it had happened. Lions had recently killed two Chinese men who didn't understand the directions, and got out of the jeep. Gerritsen wondered what's the worse that can get happen on safari. What if the person who is supposed to keep you safe is the most dangerous creature out there? The ranger was a fake. He had killed the original ranger, and went on the ultimate hunt. Only one woman survived who had seen his face. Five years later, there have been deaths near the zoo, and Jane Rizzoli connects it to the story of the African safari, and goes looking for the survivor of that trip.

Gerritsen ended the program by taking a few questions. Who is her favorite writer? She says it depends on her mood, but Phillippa Gregory is one. She writes from the point of view of medieval women.

Tess Gerritsen wanted to be a writer at the age of seven. She told her father, who was Asian American, but he said that's no way to make a living. She went to medical school to be a dutiful daughter. When she went on maternity leave with her first son, she started writing, and never really went back.

And, how long does it take to write a book? One year, because that's all they give her.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What are you reading?

I went to Owensboro, Kentucky to hear Tess Gerritsen last night, so I didn't have time to read or blog. Tomorrow, I'll have the recap of Tess' talk. In the meantime, I'm about to start Carl Brookins' latest mystery,  The Case of the Purloined Painting. Let's talk about what you're reading. Oh, and I had a better talk in the car tonight about Lorna Landvik's Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons than we did at the book discussion group. We got sidetracked, and the discussion didn't go well. What book are you reading? Do you want to tell us about it?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Starry Night by Debbie Macomber

No one does feel good Christmas novels like Debbie Macomber. At the front of Starry Night is a letter to
her readers. She says, "Because of my love for the season, I've written a Christmas story each year simply because I couldn't allow the holidays to pass without putting my own unique stamp on them." This one isn't about her Christmas angels, or about Mrs. Miracle. It doesn't have that sense of humor. Instead, Starry Night is a Christmas romance, a happily-ever-after wish for the holidays.

Carrie Slayton is a successful writer for the Chicago Herald, but she feels trapped in the job, and the city. She wanted a meatier role as a journalist, covering real stories, not weddings and the society page. And, she misses her family in Seattle as holiday season approaches. However, when she begs her boss for a real assignment, he sends her on a quest. Come back from Alaska with an interview with reclusive author Finn Dalton, and she can call her shots at the newspaper. Carrie's determined to make that happen.

Finn Dalton's book, Alone, has been a bestseller for seven months, much of that in the number one position. However, there's no picture of him on his book jacket, and journalists have been unsuccessfully lobbying for an interview for all of those seven months. "Despite how it looked,Finn wasn't a recluse but simply a man who enjoyed his solitude. He wasn't about to disrupt his life and become a media darling."

It will take a determined reporter to break into Finn Dalton's life. But, Carrie Slayton is desperate, and she has a secret weapon. She talked to Finn's estranged mother. But, that may prove to be a hindrance rather than a help because Finn has bitter feelings toward the mother who deserted him.  It's going to take more than determination to reach Finn Dalton's heart. It's going to take a Starry Night in Alaska.

Debbie Macomber's latest Christmas novel is a small book with a romantic streak a mile wide. Don't look for great drama. Just look for two characters to root for, and a romantic setting under a starry sky. It's a perfect treat for the reader who loves the holiday magic of romance.

Debbie Macomber's website is

Starry Night by Debbie Macomber. 2013. ISBN 9780345528896 (hardcover), 243p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, October 14, 2013

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik

I first read Lorna Landvik's Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons ten years ago, and reread it for book club
this week. I still found myself crying over parts of it. It's a novel that carries five friends from 1968 to 1998, with all the changes that come about through cultural changes and lifestyle changes. Best of all, the device to bring these friends together is a book club.

With Faith as the overall narrator, each woman's voice is heard as she picks a book for the discussion. But Faith is the one who introduces the book, writes the epilogue, and tells of the night the friendship began in the middle of a snowball fight. That night, the frustrated young mother of twins who had recently moved to Freesia Court met the women who would see her through the years. There's Aubrey, the bold woman who thinks you can get away with a lot with attitude. There's beautiful Merit, mother of gorgeous daughters, but a woman living with a terrible secret. Kari, the oldest of the group, is a widow who misses her beloved husband. Slip may be under five foot, but she's a warrior at heart. And, then there's Faith herself, hiding her past from everyone, even her husband. It's books and friendship that gets these women through the tumultuous years of their lives, from childbirth to divorce to careers and grandchildren.

The book club started as a monthly escape from children, providing an opportunity for the women to have intelligent conversations. It continued as a book club while the books discussed reflected American society, from  On the Road to Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask to Stephen King. The 60s meant Vietam; the early 70s meant protests and Nixon. The 80s brought changes to everyone's life.

Even ten years after publication, I find myself fascinated by the books discussed, and how they reflect American life. And, I still like these five women, and Grant, the man they finally allow in their closed circle. Their arguments, their lives, and their friendship are realistic. And, I still have a favorite woman, Slip. She was my favorite the first time I read Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, and she remains my favorite. It's hard to dislike a woman who thinks Genesis should be changed to say, And God created read by.

Lorna Landvik's website is

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik.Ballantine Books. 2003. ISBN 0345475690 (paperback), 483p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Celtic Thunder Weekend

A friend once told me my personal blog should be called, "All Celtic Thunder, All The Time." This weekend, I was following the show, so you'll have to put up with the blog here. Feel free to skip it, although I did include some library pictures while I was on the road. This was the fourth and fifth time I've seen Celtic Thunder perform, and I have one more show in St. Louis to see in a couple weeks. I do have a bumper sticker that says, "It's a Celtic Thunder thing. You wouldn't understand."

Friday night, the concert was in Carmel, Indiana at the Palladium, a beautiful venue, inside and out.

 (You do know fan is short for fanatic, right?) I even bought tickets to the sound check in the afternoon. Well worth it! The guys perform five or six numbers, some of which they don't do in the show. And, you're allowed to take pictures, even though they're working, and they're dressed casually.

All six stars at Sound Check
George Donaldson
Ryan Kelly is a long-time Colts fan

It's fun to see the lads joking around on stage. After sound check, I found a place to eat dinner, Woody's Library Restaurant. Woody's was once a Carnegie Library.

The floors inside are original, and they certainly try to maintain the atmosphere. This was my booth for dinner.

After dinner, I headed to the concert. Fabulous! Great acoustics in the hall, but the stage is a little small, and it couldn't handle most of the set.

After spending the night in Carmel, I headed for Wabash, where the concert was to be on Saturday night at the Honeywell Center. I had time to kill before I could check into my hotel, so I went to the Wabash Carnegie Public Library. It was opened in 1903. (Told you I'd have some libraries in this story.)

In honor of the 100th anniversary, the Wabash Quilters made this gorgeous quilt for the library.

I went to a second sound check on Saturday. This sound check was even better because not only to George Donaldson sing the most beautiful version of "Both Sides Now" that I've ever heard, but all six performed "Galway Girl", which they don't do in the show. They're getting ready for the Celtic Thunder cruise in November, so they're rehearsing for that as well.

Colm Keegan and Emmet Cahill

Emmet Cahill and George Donaldson

George Donaldson and Keith Harkin


Keith and Emmet


Keith, Neil Byrne, Ryan


Neil, Nicole, Declan



This was the first time Celtic Thunder has ever been to Wabash. The center was sold out, and it was a fabulous, appreciative audience. Because the audience was so into it, and the stage was large enough for hte entire set, it was actually a better show than Friday night.

Absolutely a terrific Celtic Thunder weekend.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

New Arrivals

When I arrived home Wednesday, and found eight books plus the entire shipment of Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian mysteries for November, I thought I'd share new arrivals. You'll have to wait to see a book chat for the Penguin mysteries. But, I'll share the other eight with you.

I asked for a copy of Sarah Addison Allen's Lost Lake. I love her books. And, Lost Lake has a beautiful cover. A year after Kate's husband dies, she packs up her daughter and visits Suley, Georgia, home of Lost Lake where she had one of the happiest summers of her life. Now, she finds a place full of ghosts and oddities, but sometimes lost loves aren't really lost. (Feb. 11 release)

Joelle Charbonneau's Skating Under the Wire is already out. It's bad enough that skating rink owner Rebecca Robbins has to juggle Thanksgiving preparations and duties as a maid of honor. But, when she's hired to look into a string of home invasions, and a dead body turns up at the bridal shower. Rebecca isn't going to have a quiet holiday season.

Edgar Award-winner Bruce DeSilva brings back Liam Mulligan in Providence Rag, the third book to feature the old-school investigative reporter for a dying newspaper in Providence, Rhode Island. Based on a true story, Mulligan and his fellow newspaper pal, Mason, find themselves on the opposite side of an ethical argument. Which side would you be on if the state's youngest serial killer was kept in prison on trumped up charges so no one else will die? It's a March 11, 2014 release.

Gaute Heivoll's novel, Before I Burn, is also based on a true story, the true account of Norway's most dramatic arson case. In the novel, an arsonist targets a small town for one month in 1970s Norway. But, new life arrives even during the fires. A young boy named Gaute Heivoll  is christened on the day the last house is set afire, but the stories about that time engross him. As he begins to retell the story, the arsonist's motivations are slowly revealed. It's released Jan. 7, 2014.

I'm eager to read Marci Jefferson's debut novel, Girl on the Golden Coin. She's an Indiana author who is writing about Frances Stuart, the beautiful Royalist exile who must walk a fine line between pleasing kings and protecting her family's secrets. In 1660, the Restoration of Stuart Monarchy in England returns Frances Stuart and her family to favor. But, she has Stuart secrets to keep, even if it means dealing with a vengeful King Louis XIV in France, and maneuvering the political turbulence of England under King Charles. It's another Feb. 11, 2014 release.

I found two readers for Bich Minh Nguyen's Pioneer Girl when I summarized it in the hall one day. The Feb. 6 book is a novel about a Vietnamese American family's ties to The Little House on the Prairie. When Lee Lien returns home and her brother disappears, he leaves behind an object from their mother's Vietnam past that stirs up a forgotten childhood dream, a gold-leaf brooch abandoned by an American reporter in Saigon that may be an heirloom of Laura Ingalls Wilder's. This literary mystery about the true origins of a time-tested classic is also the story of a second-generation Vietnamese daughter trying to honor her parents, find her brother, and find a way to live her own life.

Terry Shames brings back ex-police chief Samuel Craddock in The Last Death of Jack Harbin. Just before the Gulf War, two best friends from Jarrett Creek, Texas signed up for the army. Woody Patterson was rejected, stayed home and married the girl they both loved. Jack Harbin came back from the war badly damaged. Just when they were about to reconcile, Jack was brutally murdered. It's up to the ex-police chief to uncover the dark secrets to find a murderer. Release date is Jan. 7, 2014.

And, I'll end with a fun little book, There Is a God! 1,001 Heartwrming (and Hilarious) Reasons to Believe by Richard Smith and Maureen McElhron. It eatures 60 original drawings and 1,001 "reasons to beliee" that range from wry and witty to sweet and reassuring. I haven't read the book yet, but I definitely believe this one - "Fireflies on a June night". This one is due out Oct. 31.

There has to be something here that catches your attention. Which one is it?