Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Book Loft in Columbus, OH

Danger! Danger! If you love independent bookstores, The Book Loft in Columbus, Ohio is a dangerous place It's thirty-two rooms of bargain books in a collection of brick buildings in historic German Village, and it's easy to lose hours there. My Mom, my sister, Linda, and I spent some delightful time there on "Black Friday" instead of going shopping at any mall. Instead, we wandered through a store filled with books, calendars, funny cards, and an amazing stock of jigsaw puzzles. Each room is dedicated to a subject or genre with appropriate music playing in that room. All three of us bought books. And, it's so easy to get caught up in the books that I picked up one while I was standing on the stairway waiting for other people to come down it.

The Book Loft windows were decorated beautifully for the holidays. But, no matter what time of year, if you're in German Village in Columbus, and you love books and bookstores, The Book Loft is a must stop.

Mom and Linda at The Book Loft


Oh, and one of the books I bought? My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Paces to Browse, Read, and Shop. That's the one I picked up while I was standing on the stairs. It's filled with writers' stories about the independent bookstores they love, and The Book Loft is in it. Jeff Smith, author and artist of Bone picked it.

The Book Loft's website is

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Shoemaker's Wife, finally finishes her Valentine trilogy with a novel that will break your heart, The Supreme Macaroni Company. Trigiani introduced readers to Valentine Roncalli and her boisterous Italian American family in 2009's Very Valentine, and followed it up quickly with Brava, Valentine. It's not easy to say goodbye to Valentine and her Greenwich Village life as a talented shoe designer.

The roof of Valentine's home above the Angelini Shoe Company has been the scene of so many important events in her life. Now, it's the place where she accepts a proposal of marriage. And, as has become typical in these novels, the story quickly moves to a loud family party, in this case a Christmas Eve celebration where Valentine announces her engagement. As the last daughter to marry, the wedding is naturally a blow-out. But, at thirty-five Valentine is set in her ways, determined to continue her life and business as she always had. "I'd assumed that I would continue to live my life as I always had, wedding ring or not." What she doesn't realize is that she's poured all of her life into her business. Her new husband "Was fighting to show me how to live."

The Supreme Macaroni Company is a must-read for everyone who fell in love with Valentine Roncalli and her eccentric, overbearing family. It's the culmination of a strong series with wonderful, living characters. At the same time, I found myself very angry with Valentine. I understand her behavior in the book, because it's her nature. She fought and built the Angelini Shoe Company to what it is today. But, she comes across as a demanding, selfish woman who only wants her way, and doesn't want to compromise at all in her marriage. Honestly? The shoe company comes before everything else in Valentine's heart. She's just lucky she found a man who put her before his own happiness.

Saying all that, Adriana Trigiani wraps up the series about a strong woman who had to fight her way to success, a woman who knew what she wanted in life. Valentine Roncalli is an artist, determined to have everything, a successful business, a husband, and a family, and do it on her terms. Sometimes, though, life has a way of surprising even the strongest woman, but Valentine, with the help of her family, finds a way to move on. The Supreme Macaroni Company is this year's gift from an author who understands that life isn't always happy endings.

Adriana Trigiani's website is She can be found on Facebook at, and on Twitter at @adrianatrigiani.

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani. HarperCollins. 2013. ISBN 9780062136589 (hardcover), 352p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy of the book in order to participate in the blog tour.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!
I hope you have as many reasons to give thanks this year as I do. I'm grateful for a wonderful family who helped to move me to Evansville, and who are now close enough to visit for a weekend.

I'm grateful for wonderful friends. I miss them, but Jamie and I are always in touch, and I'll see Chantelle again in March at Left Coast Crime, and Beth Hoffman here in Evansville in June.
I'm grateful for all the people I worked with in libraries in the past, and that I now work with wonderful people at the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library. It's been a year of change here, with so many exciting ideas ahead for 2014. I just can't say how thankful I am for the people I work with.

I miss my friends in the crime fiction community so much. That's what I miss the most about leaving Arizona. But, I'm grateful I'm attending Left Coast Crime in Monterey in March, and I'll get to see a number of them. So cheers to the women and men of crime! (Particularly all the women!)

And, of course, I'm thankful for books and cats and Celtic Thunder and theater, and all the special things that make up my life. It's a good life.

I hope you enjoy your life, and are grateful for family, friends, the special things in your life, including books!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Winners and Going to the Dogs Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. The Thurlos' Ghost Medicine will go to Erika G. of Northville, MI. Cindy D. of Mesa, AZ won the copy of Anne Hillerman's Spider Woman's Daughter. The books will go out in the mail today.

I have two books to give away this week that may interest you or the dog lover in your life. I'm giving away an ARC of W. Bruce Cameron's charming story  The Dogs of Christmas. A little romance, a lot of dogs in a story about a needy man who suddenly has six dogs when he's never owned a dog in his life.

Or, if you're interested in the nonfiction side of dogs, you could win The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter than You Think by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods. It's a story of revolutionary research, funny and moving adventures in the field, and useful insights into what your dog is actually thinking.

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

The contest will end on Thursday, Dec. 5 at 6 PM CT.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Libby Fischer Hellmann

Libby Fischer Hellmann recently appeared at the library to talk about her writing and her books. And, I bought a copy of one of her books to give away, so don't forget to check out the details at the end of this piece.

Libby started out by telling the audience that she wrote her first book about two male cops. She found a New York agent while writing her second book, and thought she was hot stuff with a New York agent. But, he couldn't sell her first book. She said, wait, I'm writing a sequel. He answered that that didn't make it any better. He couldn't sell a book with those characters. He advised her to change her voice, her characters, her plot. And, while she was at it, she should chagne agents because he didn't want to represent her anymore. She sat and cried.

But, Libby had sold some short stories, including "The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared". That story, set in 1938 in Lawndale, featured a young Jake Foreman who had a crush on a woman in the Yiddish theater. The story won a couple contests, and Hellmann thought maybe she should expand it. That was her Eureka moment. She moved the characters ahead sixty years. Jake is in his seventies. He has a daughter, Ellie, who is a video producer. (Libby was a video producer.) Ellie had a daughter. (Libby had a daughter.) They both lived in the northern suburbs of Chicago. She wrote An Eye for Murder. Four weeks later, she had an agent. The agent sold it four weeks later with a three book contract.

Hellmann's in a writing group, and she had been in it for two years when she wrote An Eye for Murder. Everyone read their pieces, and sometimes they red-lined everything Libby wrote. Then, she read Ellie. There was silence in the room, and finally the woman who had been the toughest on her said, "You found your voice. That was spectacular." Once she was published, her agent told her to get writing because she had another book coming out in nine months. She was writing that book, A Picture of Guilt, when 9/11 happened, and then no one could write. She's not as found of that book. It's her "black sheep book". The next one, An Image of Death, is her favorite.

The last Ellie book, A Shot to Die For, came out in 2005, although Ellie and Hellmann's other character, Georgia Davis, shared a book in 2009, Doubleback. Libby can't wait to get back to writing about Ellie. She likes her voice; her wry, deadpan humor, and her vulnerability. She's finishing a Georgia book, and then she'll write the next Ellie one.

Hellmann said she likes to do research. She was a history major, and she can get lost in the research. She had to do research for what she calls her three revolution books, Set the Night on Fire, A Bitter Veil, and Havana Lost. She said she loves suspense. There's a lot at stake in her books, not just a puzzle to be solved.

When she worked in film, Hellmann loved to edit film. Now, she hates to write, but loves the editing. As a self-published author, now, she's responsible for all her promotion and marketing. She writes a blog every week. She also writes the book and movie column called "Backstories" for a women's magazine, "Women's Voices". She gets itchy, and has to write.

Over the years, Hellmann's books have gotten darker as she writes more. The new Georgia is dark. Havana Lost is dark.

Hellmann told us she had written a short story that takes place in Pendleton, Indiana. It's set in the '60s, and it's based on a true story that was told to her.  The true story is that a Ku Klux Klan member participated in a lynching. He was caught and convicted to stay in jail for the rest of his life. After six or seven years, a young African-American guy was railroaded for killing a white woman. He was mentally inflicted. When he was imprisoned, he was put in with the general population, and ended up sharing a cell in Birmingham, Alabama with the Ku Klux Klan member, and they became friends. Someone told Libby the story, and then said it was hers to write.

Libby wanted to write the story, but wanted some background, so she put it out on the Internet that she was looking for someone to tell her how prisons worked in Indiana. Everyone suggested the author Les Edgerton because he'd been in prison for drugs in the '60s. He told her there were white dorms and black dorms, and the two inmates never would have been together in Pendleton. So, she asked if they ever would have come together anyplace, like the library. When he said yes, she decided to have the white guy teaching the black guy to read in the library at Pendleton. The story comes out in an anthology next March, and has a noir ending. Two of her recent books, A Bitter Veil, and Set the Night on Fire do have happy endings.

Set the Night on Fire deals with the '60s. A young girl is being stalked, and she doesn't know who or why. While trying to figure that out, she uncovers information on the computer that indicates her parents aren't really her parents. From there, the book goes back to the 1968 Democratic Convention where six people got together. They lived together for the next two years. And, that story leads to why the young girl might have been stalked.

Hellmann said she never got over the '60s. Young people thought they'd change the world, and they didn't. Why not? Where they naive? Facing entrenched power? Libby needed to write about it to get it out of her system. The middle part of the book doesn't end well, and then she goes back to the present. She got the '60s out of her system.

Hellmann once worked for an underground newspaper in D.C., and Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Rubin's girlfriend, Nancy, stopped in. The girlfriend was sweet, and thought that revolution could be fun. When Libby wrote Set the Night on Fire, she looked Nancy up and found her living in Chicago. Six months ago, there was a docudrama about the Chicago 7 that premiered in Chicago, and Libby went to the movie. Rubin's girlfriend talked after the movie, and LIbby gave her a copy of the book. Then, one day Hellmann received an email from her, with the ultimate compliment, "You nailed it."

A Bitter Veil was written after a conversation with author William Kent Krueger. Libby was talking to him at Bouchercon, and said she was drawn to stories about women who were up against the wall, and had their options taken away from them. A few years earlier, she had run into a woman at a high school reunion who told her a story about falling in love and moving to Tehran. Four months later, the Shah was deposed, and the Ayatollah came to power. She went from living in luxury, to losing everything. Finally, she had to come back to the U.S., and she got a divorce. Libby told Krueger that she couldn't write that story. It wasn't fiction, and there wasn't a crime. He said to her, "Find one." Hellmann researched and wrote the book, and then tracked down her friend because she wanted to dedicate the book to her. The friend responded that it wasn't Iran. It was India, because the Punjab area of India went through some of the same experiences as Iran. Hellmann did leave a loose end in A Bitter Veil. That loose end is wrapped up in a short story, "War Secrets" in an anthology called The Mystery Box.

Libby Fischer Hellmann's parents set her on the path to writing Havana Lost. They used to vacation in Cuba and gamble. Libby thought that was exotic. And, then Batista was overthrown and Castro came into power. The mysterious, evil place attracted her. She thought she had to go to Cuba someday. Then, she was fascinated by the Mafia and organized crime. The Mafia ran Cuba under Batista.

Hellmann brought Cuba and the Mafia together in Havana Lost. It's about a young Mafia princess, Francesca,  whose father ran a casino in Cuba before the revolution. She meets a rebel, falls in love, and runs away with him. Flash forward to the '80s. The Cubans are in Angola, which was their Vietnam. Then, back to Cuba. The Soviet Union collapsed, and Cuba's economy tanked. Agriculture, industry, and transportation all fell apart. Fidel (only the U.S. calls him Castro; to the rest of the world, he's Fidel) couldn't even make those years look good. they call the years "The Special Period" when there was no food. Some say Cuba really hasn't come out of it. In the '90s Fidel decided to open Cuba to tourism, and allow Europeans to build resorts there. The third part of the book is Chicago at the present time. Francesca is in her seventies in the third part. Havana Lost is a book about Cuba, family, lawlessness, and nobility.

Because Hellmann was at the library on November 21, we talked about Kennedy's assassination. She said Fidel testified to the Warren Commission because he wanted to clear his name. Libby believes Fidel didn't have anything to do with JFK's death. She does believe the CIA and Mafia worked together. The CIA was furious that Kennedy didn't back them in the Bay of Pigs. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK changed. He distrusted the military and the CIA. Bobby was going after the Mafia. Their father, Joe, was a bootlegger, and did business with the Mafia. Now, his sons were after them.

Then, there were the three tramps in Dallas. According to Hellmann, they were Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis, and Woody Harrelson's father, Charles, a hired killer. She believes Oswald was set up, and he was a patsy. There's a theory that Watergate actually happened because Nixon wanted to find out what the Democrats knew about the tramps.

Libby ended by saying fifty years ago on November 22, she was in school. Luci Baines Johnson, LBJ's daughter, went to the same school, and sat together in study hall because they sat in alphabetical order. They were in study hall, and already knew JFK had been shot. In the middle of study hall, the principal walked in and gestured to Luci. That's when they knew Kennedy had died. She left, and came back on Monday with a Secret Service agent.

It was a terrific visit by Libby. It gave me the opportunity to buy a copy of Set the Night on Fire and have it autographed. And, I'm giving it away. If you'd like to win a copy, email me at Your subject heading should read "Win Set the Night on Fire." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Sunday night, Dec. 1 at 6 PM CT.

Libby Fischer Hellman's website is

Monday, November 25, 2013

Linda Spalding, Guest Blogger

It's an honor to welcome Linda Spalding as guest blogger today. Linda is the author of the acclaimed literary historical novel, The Purchase. After reading her guest blog, check out the information at the end of the blog telling you how you could win a copy of The Purchase.

The Purchase is the story of a Quaker family, disowned by the community of Brandywine, Pennsylvania and sent into exile. When they settle on the Virginia frontier, their pacifist and abolitionist convictions are challenged and eventually betrayed by one terrible decision. This is the story of a family unraveling bit by heartbreaking bit. It won Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Fiction Prize. Linda Spalding is from Kansas and lives in Toronto with her husband, Michael Ondaatje. Thank you, Linda.

How to Write About Your Grandfather’s Grandfather….. And Why.

I was in the fourth grade when I learned that I am descended from slave owners. It came as part of a story about my family’s migration to Kansas.  “First, we freed all our slaves,” the story began.  It was the year my father was making enemies in Topeka, Kansas by desegregating the schools and I couldn’t understand his casual reference to “our” slaves. But there was an even earlier part of the story that no one had told me.  That first slave owner – the man who had put his hand up at an auction down near the Cumberland Gap in Virginia – was a Quaker. He had been sent into exile by his Pennsylvania community for some infraction, some breaking of rules. He was a widower with a wagon full of children, a new wife and nowhere to go. When I eventually learned his history, I was determined to understand how he could have betrayed his own beliefs, since the Quakers were fervent abolitionists. I wondered what could cause such a betrayal and how it would effect you once the decision was made. I felt I could almost reach back in time since I remembered my paternal grandfather with his somber bearing and white beard and his grandfather was only that little bit more removed. Daniel. In his thirties when he left Pennsylvania to find a new home and probably ill prepared to live in the wild, on the frontier without the help of friends or neighbors.

In order to get to know Daniel, I made the long drive that he had made, right through the Shenandoah Valley on what used to be called The Wilderness Road. At the end of it, much to my astonishment, I found the big red brick mansion built by Daniel’s son, and behind that, a pile of logs and stones that had once been Daniel’s cabin.  Every brick of the big house had been molded by a slave, but Daniel’s cabin was a humble place. Now I wanted to know the whole story and I went to the courthouse and looked at deeds and census records. I began doing research, trying to put myself in Daniel’s place. He had a new wife, married quickly after the death of his first wife in childbirth. It was all pretty clear. Wife number two was a Methodist and for the sin of marrying out of his faith, Daniel had been shunned and sent into exile. Needing a mother for his orphaned children he had driven them all to the edge of the world, for in 1798, when Daniel left Pennsylvania, the Cumberland Gap was the edge of the United States.
Of course I still can’t be sure why Daniel betrayed a conviction against slave owning that he must have held close to his heart. But I know the betrayal damaged him and his children and even his descendants. And understanding that was the great discovery of The Purchase.

About The Purchase

Winner of Canada's 2012 Governor General's Award for Fiction

In this provocative and starkly beautiful historical novel, a Quaker family moves from Pennsylvania to the Virginia frontier, where slaves are the only available workers and where the family’s values and beliefs are sorely tested.

In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, recently widowed and shunned by his fellow Quakers when he marries his young servant girl to help with his five small children, moves his shaken family down the Wilderness Road to the Virginia/Kentucky border. Although determined to hold on to his Quaker ways, and despite his most dearly held belief that slavery is a sin, Daniel becomes the owner of a young boy named Onesimus, setting in motion a twisted chain of events that will lead to tragedy and murder, forever changing his children’s lives and driving the book to an unexpected conclusion.

A powerful novel of sacrifice and redemption set in a tiny community on the edge of the frontier, this spellbinding narrative unfolds around Daniel’s struggle to maintain his faith; his young wife, Ruth, who must find her own way; and Mary, the eldest child, who is bound to a runaway slave by a terrible secret. Darkly evocative, The Purchase is as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life. Its memorable characters, drawn with compassion and depth, are compellingly human, with lives that bring light to matters of loyalty and conscience.
About Linda Spalding

Linda Spalding was born in Kansas and lived in Mexico and Hawaii before immigrating to Canada in 1982. She is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, Daughters of Captain Cook, The Paper Wife, and (with her daughter Esta) Mere. Her nonfiction includes The Follow (Canadian title, short-listed for the Trillium Book Award and the Pearson Writers’ Trust Prize, and published in the US as A Dark Place in the Jungle), Riska: Memories of a Dayak Girlhood (shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize), and Who Named the Knife. She has been awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the Canadian literary community. The Purchase received Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award and its Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Spalding lives in Toronto, where she is the editor of Brick magazine.

Visit Linda's website at

Because of Thanksgiving, I'll run this contest until Sunday night, Dec. 1. If you'd like to enter to win a copy of The Purchase, email me at Your subject heading should read "Win The Purchase." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Dogs of Christmas by W. Bruce Cameron

Even cat lovers will find it hard to resist Lucy and the puppies in W. Bruce Cameron's novel The Dogs of
Christmas. Cameron brings together a cluelass man, a needy group of dogs, and a woman who doesn't quite understand the man's own neediness.

Josh Michaels lives alone on the top of a mountain in Evergreen, Colorado, a loner who likes it that way. He's enraged when a neighbor he only met in a bar dumps a pregnant dog on him, but Josh instantly falls for Lucy. "Somehow having her made him feel better, less alone."  But, Josh never owned a pet, and he absolutely falls apart when it comes to dealing with a dog giving birth. The vet was a help, but when Josh is faced with five puppies in a snowstorm that knocks the power out, he's at his wit's end. Only a voice at the other end of the phone manages to calm him down. Kerri answered the phone at the local animal shelter, and talks him through his panic.

Kerri's willing to take Josh step-by-step through the process of raising puppies. And, for the first time since he lost his girlfriend, Josh is interested in another woman, so he follows all of Kerri's instructions. But, when she wants him to give up the puppies for the shelter's "Dogs for Christmas" program, it's another matter. How can a man who felt rejected by his own parents give up puppies that he raised? As the holiday approaches, Josh and Kerri find themselves on opposite sides of a gap that may be too large to cross.

W. Bruce Cameron's The Dogs of Christmas is a charming holiday story, filled with puppies and whispers of romance. And, the humor is priceless. Josh is clueless when it comes to both dogs and women. But, the dogs and the women teach him. Dog lovers will enjoy the puppies with their individual personalities. And, those who enjoy a Christmas story with a happy ending and a Colorado snowy setting will also enjoy this addition to the ranks of holiday tales. (Ahem, plenty of holiday "tails" in this one.)

W. Bruce Cameron's website is

The Dogs of Christmas by W. Bruce Cameron. Forge. 2013. ISBN 978765330550 (hardcover), 240p.

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

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Christie Curse by Victoria Abbott

Victoria Abbott's new Book Collector mystery, The Sayers Swindle, is due out in a couple weeks, and I had not yet read the first in the series. It was time to pick up  The Christie Curse. What a fun story! A recluse, an old house, a group of retainers, collectible mysteries, and a charming family of con artists. The Christie Curse is a little bit caper and a little bit mystery.

Jordan Bingham is fresh out of grad school and desperate for a job, so she pushes herself into an interview with Vera Van Alst, the most hated woman in Harrison Falls, NY. But, Jordan knows she's capable of research, and the job comes with a place to live. As much as she loves her uncles, men who skate a little on the shady side of the law, she doesn't have the same style as the Kellys. She intends to make money the hard way, legally.

It might be difficult to make her living as a researcher, though. Vera is a gruff employer who doesn't give Jordan much help, other than she wants her to find a play that Agatha Christie might have written. Between her ill-mannered employer, the Jekyll and Hyde cat who appears night after night in Jordan's room, and the stories that the previous person who had her job died under mysterious circumstances, the job isn't easy. And, when a friendly bookseller is attacked
and left for dead, Jordan knows there's something wrong with her job assignment.

The Christie Curse is a mystery filled with comic relief. The cat that appears in Jordan's locked room night after night, Signora Panetone, the housekeeper/cook with her demands, "Eat!", the Kelly uncles, and the policeman who just happens to be everywhere Jordan shows up, are all wonderful additions to the story. These elements make the story stand apart from other mysteries.

I'm sorry I waited so long to read Victoria Abbott's The Christie Curse. On the other hand, that means I won't have long to wait for Jordan Bingham's next book collecting adventure, The Sayers Swindle.

"Victoria Abbott's" website is

The Christie Curse by Victoria Abbott. Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425255285 (paperback), 295p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, November 22, 2013

Guest Post, Winners and a Native American Giveaway

Today, November 22, 2013, is the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It's an anniversary that reminds me of my late husband, Jim, even more than our wedding anniversary. He read everything he could on the Kennedys and the assassination. When Kris Neri invited me to write a guest post for the Femmes Fatales blog, and offered me Nov. 22, I jumped at the chance. Join me over at today to read my anniversary post.

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Matthew R. of Halesite, NY won C.J. Box' The Highway. Beth H. of Kentucky won Terry Shames' A Killing at Cotton Hill. I'll put the books in the mail today.

It seems appropriate to give away two mysteries featuring Native Americans during Thanksgiving week. Anne Hillerman picked up her father's Leaphorn and Chee series with Spider Woman's Daughter. When Navajo Nation police officer Bernadette Manualito witnessed the shooting of a legendary officer, she was told she couldn't participate in the investigation. Officially, she wasn't allowed to participate. That didn't mean she couldn't pool her information with her husband Sergeant Jim Chee, who was in charge of finding the shooter.

Ghost Medicine is the latest Ella Clah novel by Aimee and David Thurlo. Navajo Police Special Investigator Ella Clah takes all her cases personally, but the murder of Harry Ute hits her hard. They dated years earlier, but he was also part of her investigative team at one time. Now, she teams up with a county cop, sharing jurisdiction in a case that might involve the secret sale of Navajo artifacts. And Ella is determined to bring Harry's killer to justice.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Spider Woman's Daughter" or "Win Ghost Medicine." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Because of the holiday, this giveaway will end early. Please get your entries in by Tuesday night, Nov. 26 at 6 p.m. CT. I'll pick the winners and get the books out in the mail on Wednesday.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Silent Night by Robert B. Parker and Helen Brann

Helen Brann, who was Robert B. Parker's agent, reported that on the morning he died Parker was working on a Spenser Christmas story. When Parker's widow told her that, and said she wondered what would happen to it now, Brann offered to finish it. The result is  Silent Night: A Spenser Holiday Novel. It's one last look at the meaning of family by a man who knew that family isn't always related, but sometimes made of people we want to be with, people we care about.

It's two weeks before Christmas when an eleven-year-old boy, Slide, shows up in Spenser's office, asking him to help his friend, Jackie. Joachim Lorenzo Alvarez, "Jackie", runs Street Business, a business that isn't exactly legal in an area of Boston that isn't the best. He gives kids a place to live and his brother helps him find jobs for the boys, orphans, runaways, kids that need help. Jackie's older brother, Juan, was a successful Puerto Rican businessman who had money and clout, and, in the past, had provided protection for Street Business. But, someone was roughing up Jackie's kids, so he went to Spenser for help. Spenser wanted to help because he saw Slide as "The most terrified kid trying not to show it I've ever seen." It was easy to recruit Hawk to help, a man who remembered his own days as a terrified boy.

Helen Brann may have been Parker's agent for years, but this book still isn't Spenser as he was when Parker wrote. There are missing parts. Spenser's cooking isn't as exquisite as it was in earlier books. The wit isn't as crackling as it once was. But, sadly, Hawk is the weakest part of the book. Hawk isn't the same character. He wasn't as suave as he could be. Parker's Hawk would never have been as coarse in front of two women and a boy as this Hawk is at Christmas dinner.

I've read every Spenser novel that Robert B.Parker wrote, and all the ones that have been attempted since. But, I'm finished with them. Even though Parker's books didn't have mysteries in the last years, they still had wit and character. That's missing in all the Spenser books that have come out since his death, including Silent Night. Without the heart, there's no reason for me to try to read any more of these books.

Silent Night: A Spenser Holiday Novel by Robert B. Parker with Helen Brann. G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2013. ISBN 9780399157882 (hardcover), 230p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dark Witch by Nora Roberts

Every time Nora Roberts starts a new trilogy, I wonder how she can keep it fresh and original. Early in the
book, it's always easy to figure out which couples will end up together by the end of the series. It doesn't really matter. Roberts manages to turn her characters into living people, and it's hard to let them go at the end of the book. Dark Witch, Book one of the Cousins O'Dwyer trilogy does that. I've now heard more than one reader say they didn't want the book to end. Count me with them.

I can't resist a book that starts with Macbeth's witches, my favorite scene from one of my favorite plays. And, then Roberts set it in Ireland. I was ready to fall for this series before I met any of the characters. She introduces us to Sorcha, known to the villagers as the Dark Witch in 1263 in what would become County Mayo. With Sorcha's husband off to war, she protected her three children against evil, and protected herself against the evil sorcerer who coveted her power. Each of Sorcha's children had a talisman, a companion, and a gift that they would pass on to their descendants.

When Iona Sheehan arrives in County Mayo in 2013, she comes with an amulet given to her by her grandmother, a love of horses, and a knowledge that she's descended from Sorcha's youngest, Teagan, the girl who possessed a kind heart, and was full of questions. When she meets her cousins Branna and Conner O'Dwyer, they all know that the three have been brought together to use their magick gifts to defeat evil in the form of the sorcerer who once battled their ancestor. To do so, they unite with three friends, Boyle, Meara, and the mysterious Fin, a descendant of that sorcerer.

It's fascinating to get to know Nora Roberts' characters. Iona Sheehan's personality shows her descent from Teagan. She's curious, bubbles as the youngest child did, and shares a gift for dealing with horses. But, it isn't just humans that are important in this trilogy. The animals are important to the character of each of the three cousins.

Dark Witch is more than just another bestseller by the author of 199 novels under her own name as well as the J.D. Robb books. Dark Witch is magical in so many ways. There's powerful magick. There's power in the number three; the three cousins, the three friends, the three animals. Ireland itself is a land of magic. And, Nora Roberts' new book has the strongest magic of all, the magic of "love freely given and freely accepted". 

Nora Roberts' website is

Dark Witch by Nora Roberts. Penguin (USA), 2013. ISBN 9780425259856 (paperback), 368p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What are you reading?

I was out celebrating a successful One Book program last night, so I didn't get a chance to finish Nora Roberts'  Dark Witch. It's a hard book to leave unfinished since it's absolutely terrific. I knew some of you would want to know what was wrong if there wasn't a post, though. Tomorrow, I'll have the review.

Do you want to tell us what you're reading?

Monday, November 18, 2013

December Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

I'm giving you an early preview of the December mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian. The books are all released on December 3, so it gives you time to pick them up for gifts if you would like.

So, enjoy the book chat. And, for you Jinx fans, he chose to make a cameo appearance just before the end.

Here's the list of mysteries.

The Sayers Swindle by Victoria Abbott (2nd Book Collector mystery)
Home for the Homicide by Jennie Bentley (7th Do-It-Yourself mystery)
Home for the Haunting by Juliet Blackwell (4th Haunted Home Renovation mystery)
Lending a Paw by Laurie Cass (1st Bookmobile Cat mystery)
Quilt Trip by Elizabeth Craig (3rd Southern Quilting mystery)
Murder She Barked by Krista Davis (1st Paws and Claws mystery)
Cry in the Night by Carolyn Hart (As far as I can tell, it's a standalone, but first time in print)
Buttoned Up by Kylie Logan (4th Button Box mystery)
Merry Market Murder by Paige Shelton (5th Farmers' Market mystery)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Freezer I'll Shoot by Victoria Hamilton

OK, I'm going to come right out and spoil Victoria Hamilton's Freezer I'll Shoot and tell readers that Hoppy, the adorable three-legged Yorkie in the book, is the hero. And, it's a good thing Jaymie Leighton has Hoppy in her life because nothing else seems to be going quite as she expected.

Jaymie's parents are up from Florida, staying in the house in Queensville, Michigan, and there's only so much she can take of her mother. So, Jaymie and Hoppy have escaped to the family cottage on Heartbreak Island. She's handling family plumbing there, trying to write a "Vintage Eats" column for the local newspaper, and contemplating her relationship with Daniel Collins. She likes Daniel, but Jaymie's mother and Daniel's are already at war. Jaymie always thought of the island as a peaceful refuge, but maybe she never spent quite enough time there.

Jaymie's a little unsettled when she discovers Detective Zack Christian lives on the island. A month earlier, she was a suspect in a murder case he was investigating. But, when he steps in to stop a fight at the Ice House Restaurant owned by her friends Ruby and Garnet Redmond, she's glad he's there. She just never thought she would find a body soon after the fight. Now, it appears that Zack suspects one of the Redmonds.

Zack and Hoppy are the highlights of Freezer I'll Shoot. They add the appeal to this latest mystery by Hamilton. A Deadly Grind and Bowled Over, the earlier books in the series, had charming elements about Jaymie's life as a collector of vintage kitchenware. In this book, most of the charm seems to have leached away into Jaymie's plumbing problems. In fact, that is the biggest problem with the book. At one point, Jaymie says she knows way too much about plumbing and leaching fields. Unfortunately, Jaymie's so involved in it here that the reader knows too much as well.

Freezer I'll Shoot is at its best when Jaymie is involved in her kitchenware projects, meeting with friends to discuss the case, or talking with Zack. Hamilton is going to have to force Jaymie to choose between Daniel or Zack soon, or the tension will become tedious. Right now, the reader can see where her relationship with Daniel is heading. Hopefully, it won't take Jaymie long to decide. Long drawn out decisions about who to date can become the kiss of death for some cozy mystery series. I've been known to tire of a series when the amateur sleuth doesn't make a decision. Jaymie Leighton is thirty-two. Hopefully, she'll stand up for herself in the next book.

In the meantime, while Jaymie deals with changes in her life, Hoppy's fans can celebrate his role of hero in Freezer I'll Shoot.

Victoria Hamilton's website is

Freezer I'll Shoot by Victoria Hamilton. Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425252376 (paperback), 297p.

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

New Arrivals

I was so excited about some of the books that arrived today that I decided it was time to share. Check out this list of titles.

Billionaire Blend is the thirteenth entry in Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse series. A charming billionaire hires coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi to create the world's most expensive coffee blend. But is this man a target? Or a master of murder? Watch for this one! When I review it on December 5, I'll be offering an autographed copy. Release date is Dec. 3.

Ann Cleeves returns to her wonderful Shetland Island series with Dead Water. Inspector Jimmy Perez may have been away for a while, but when the body of a journalist is found, his local knowledge is needed to help Detective Inspector Willow Reeves work the case. Release date is Feb. 18.

Park ranger Anna Pigeon returns in Nevada Barr's Destroyer Angel. While on a camping trip in Minnesota's Iron Range, Anna heads away from her group for some time alone. But, while she's gone, the group is taken hostage by four armed men. Even while they march the group through the wilderness, Anna stays one step behind. She might not be armed, but she has an advantage. She knows how to survive in the wilderness, and how to stalk her prey. Release date is April 22.

Kay Hooper also takes her characters into the wilderness in Hostage. In the fourteenth novel in the Bishop/SCU series, Haven operative Luther Brinkman is sent into the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee to locate escaped felon Cole Jacoby, a mentally unstable bank robber. When Brinkman is severely wounded, Special Agent Callie Davis is sent to locate him. But the rescue mission turns into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the worst monster either operative has ever encountered. release date is Nov. 26.

I specialize is reviews of crime fiction, but Julia MacDonnell's Mimi Malloy At Last! looks fun. Mimi Malloy was forced into an early retirement. She enjoys the simple things in life until an MRI reveals black spots on her brain, signs of atrophy. While she prepares to fight her eldest daughter's plans to move her into an "Old Timer's Home", she finds a pendant that brings back memories. This story of second chances and late-life romances will be released April 8.

In Don Passman's The Amazing Harvey, struggling magician Harvey Kendall is suspected of a murder he could not have committed, and he must use his talents to pull of the greatest escape of his career. Becasue of Harvey's background in illusion, he's a natural sleuth. In a race against the clock, he must prove his innocence by convincing everyone what exactly is truth and what is pure illusion.

Robert, Earl of Locksley, returns in Warlord: A Novel of Robin Hood by Angus Donald. King Richard I, the Lionheart, is engaged in a bloody war to drive the French out of Normandy. By his side are Robin Hood and Sir Alan Dale. But while the battles rage, Alan is trying to discover the identity of the man who ordered his father's death ten years earlier, a mystery that leads him towards Paris, deep into the heart of the enemy's territory. Warlord was released this week.

I'm looking forward to The Player, the next book in Brad Parks' award-winning series featuring journalist Carter Ross. Ross dives into his investigation when residents of a Newark neighborhood are getting sick, and even dying. When he comes down with the disease, he continues to search for the source of the disease, a search that might lead directly into the arms of the local mob boss. The Player is due out March 4, just before Left Coast Crime where Parks will be toastmaster. (Can't wait to hear him!)

November 26 is release date for a parody of The Hobbit, The Harvard Lampoon's The Wobbit. Aaron Sorkinshield and his band of Little People embark on a quest across Widdle Wearth to reclaim the hoard of Academy Awards stolen from them by the lonely Puff the Magic Dragon. And, from there, the description just gets stranger.

Ghost Medicine by Aimee and David Thurlo was released this week. It's the seventeenth mystery featuring Navajo Police Special Investigator Ella Clah. Ella takes all her cases personally, but some cases are more personal than others. The murder of Harry Ute is one of those. She once dated him, but, even more important Harry was once a member of her investigative team. When she finds evidence connecting his murder to the secret sale of previously unknown Navajo artifacts, she wonders if he might have been killed to protect a lucrative operation. Harry was one of her own, and Ella Clah is determined to bring his killer to justice.

Terrific list of books, isn't it? I hope you found something for your own wish list.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Winners and A Touch of the West Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Susan P. of Galveston, TX will receive G.M. Malliet's Pagan Spring. Tasha Alexander's Behind the Shattered Glass will go to Rob K. of Kalaheo, HI. And, thanks to everyone else for entering the giveaway.

This week, I'm giving away two books set in the West. C.J. Box' The Highway takes readers to a nightmarish corner of the West where dangerous men have been carrying out their dark plans for years. When two girls disappear, a Montana investigator who was just fired from his job with the sheriff's office, heads out on the trail of a trucker on a remote road in the Rockies. "The Highway is a chilling journey with several sharp turns", and it's a standalone.

Terry Shames launches a new series with A Killing at Cotton Hill. When Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in to investigate, only to discover a long list of potential killers. It's a story that looks at the residents of a small Texas town, while showing the grandeur and loneliness of the central Texas landscape.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Please email me at Your subject line should read either "Win The Highway" or "Win A Killing at Cotton Hill." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end Thursday, Nov. 21 at 6 PM CT. Good luck!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Thrill of the Haunt by E.J. Copperman

I get so caught up in E.J. Copperman's Haunted Guesthouse mysteries that I start to think of Alison Kerby as a real person. Can you respect and feel sorry for a character? Copperman birngs his characters to life, even in a series featuring ghosts. Alison Kerby is the type of person who would make an excellent friend.  Let's face it, though. Those of us who love cozy mysteries usually read for the characters. The latest in the series, The Thrill of the Haunt,  has some characters who are doozies, including the ghosts and familiar characters who surround Alison.

Alison Kerby owns a haunted guesthouse in Harbor Haven at the Jersey Shore where she lives with her eleven-year-old daughter, Melissa. Alison has made deals with the two ghosts who haunt it, Paul and Maxie. They appear and do shows for her guests who expect a haunted guesthouse. And, Alison, who has a private investigator's licence, will help Paul investigate cases.

Paul has been moping because they haven't investigated a case lately, and even the mercurial Maxie begs Alison to find a case. Alison is only a reluctant investigator, though. She sees her role as a mother to Melissa, and the owner of a guesthouse. But, two cases come to her, and she is manipulated into taking them. One involves the murder of Everett, a homeless man in town who died inside a locked men's room, stabbed to death. Then, she's pressured into following a suspected cheating husband. The two ghosts are happy, but Alison's life is deteriorating rapidly.

Here she is, having been coerced into working two cases, and, following a second murder, two strange cases. And, one group of women in town hired her, calling her the "ghost lady" accompanied by sneers in their voices. While one group of people accuse Alison of faking the ghosts for the publicity, she's afraid to admit to the new man in her life that she sees ghosts. And, she's on the verge of losing that relationship since he knows she's hiding something.

Pushy ghosts, unreliable clients, and a man to whom she can't tell the truth. Is is any wonder I feel sorry for Alison Kerby? While Copperman's mysteries are intriguing, his strength has always been his characters, and the world he creates for them. Welcome to Alison Kerby's world in The Thrill of the Haunt. She's a businesswoman running a guesthouse. She sees and talks to ghosts, investigates crimes, but, that's not how she sees herself. Unlike characters in many other mysteries, Alison is a realistic character, a woman who values family, dead and alive, and protects her daughter. She says, "That was my job - being a mother. Not investigating crimes." Whether it's investigating a case for ghosts, tracking cheating husbands, or looking to answers to a murder, Alison Kerby knows what's important in her life. Family comes first.

Pick up E.J. Copperman's books for the great covers or the ghosts. You'll return to the series because of the fun mysteries, the dry humor, and the great characters, led by Alison Kerby, her daughter, Melissa, and the ghosts, Paul and Maxie. It's hard not to feel sorry of Alison when she's manipulated so much by clients, friends and family. Once you've read The Thrill of the Haunt, though, you'll also respect her as a woman who is loyal and cares deeply for her friends. E.J. Copperman's mysteries create a world that welcomes cozy readers with great characters, wit, and kindness.

E.J. Copperman's website is

The Thrill of the Haunt by E.J. Copperman. Berkley Prime Crime. 2013. ISBN 9780425252390 (paperback), 293p.

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What are you reading today?

I had a long day yesterday. Left home at 6:20 a.m., and didn't get back until 8 p.m. There's a reason I didn't finish my book. So, do you want to talk about what you're reading? I've just started E.J. Copperman's latest mystery, The Thrill of the Haunt.

What are you reading or listening to today?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Julia Spencer-Fleming is known for leaving her readers hanging when she writes her Clare Fergusson/RussVan Alstyne series. Now, in Through the Evil Days, she takes readers through a week's worth of agonizing non-stop action in the middle of terrible January weather, only to leave us with a day that crashes and burns for some beloved characters.

Now that Reverend Clare Fergusson and Millers Kill Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne are married, you would think the drama in their lives would disappear. But, Russ isn't at all pleased that Clare is pregnant. "He didn't want a dog. He didn't want a kid, either. They had agreed on that, hadn't they? Before they had gotten married. No kids." Russ isn't sure they'll ever be on the same page. He tells Clare, "You live in a world of belief, and faith, and half-full glasses. I live in a world of bad news and worse outcomes." Despite his feelings, he still loves Clare, and they're heading to an isolated cabin fifty miles north for their honeymoon. Even though there's a house fire just before they head out, and a young girl is missing, Russ and Clare still leave. If they don't go now, there will always be some crime to keep Russ in town. And, with both of them facing crises as work, along with their personal turmoil, they need some time away. But, the couple is heading into Russ' world of bad news and possible worse outcomes.

That's when everything falls apart. That missing girl had a liver transplant, and without her medicine, she'll die. The search for the missing girl leads into a world of evil and violence. While his police force searches for an arsonist, killer and kidnapper, unknown to them, Russ and Clare are right in the path of that evil, isolated in the country as a storm heads in. "We've gone from a honeymoon to a scene out of Deliverance in the past four days."

Julia Spencer-Fleming writes page-turners that keep the reader anxiously reading. At the same time, the relationships in her novels are important to her readers. Everyone who reads the books reads to find out what happens with Russ and Clare, but it's important to follow the other characters on the police force. Spencer-Fleming makes readers care about every member of the force. And, when she throws a curve at the end of a book, she can break hearts.

Whether you're looking for a police procedural, a riveting page-turner with non-stop action, or a novel about relationships, you won't go wrong with Through the Evil Days. You'll just be upset that you'll now have to wait a year or two to find out what happens next to those beloved characters.

You can find Julia at her website, her readerSpace, on Facebook and on Twitter as @jspencerfleming. She also blogs with the Jungle Red Writers.

Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Minotaur Books. 2013. ISBN 9780312606848 (hardcover), 357p.

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

In 2010, I reviewed Lisa Kleypas' Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor. This year, I've watched a movie on Hallmark called "Christmas with Holly". In fact, I've watched it twice, knowing I read the book. So, I finally looked it up on IMDB to see who wrote the book that the movie was based on. I tracked it down to Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor. And, now that I know that, I think I'm going to have to track down the other books about the Nolan brothers in Friday Harbor. So, for all of us who love those Christmas movies and books, here's my earlier review of Lisa Kleypas' Christmas novel.

Somewhere there must be an unwritten law that Christmas stories (unless they're mysteries) must involve loss and bittersweet memories.  Fortunately, in the case of Lisa Kleypas' Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, there's humor added to the mix.

And, there needs to be humor added to the story of a little girl who lost her mother in a car accident.  Fortunately, Holly's Uncle Mark Nolan was designated as her guardian.  He didn't realize he was fortunate.  When he grew up, his parents were always fighting, his father thought nothing of backhanding the kids, and his mother even banned Christmas celebrations.  Despite his lack of a warm family life, Mark was determined to make a home for his niece.  So, he made his brother, Sam, agree to allow them to live with him in a rambling Victorian house in Friday Harbor, a small community on San Juan Island in Washington. 

Maggie Conroy had moved to Friday Harbor to open a toy shop, changing her life following the death of her husband.  Although she resolved never to love anyone again, it was hard not to fall for the silent little girl who came into the shop one day with her handsome uncle.   Mark was shocked when Holly, who hadn't spoken after her mother's death, opened up to the tiny shop owner with the unruly red curls.  He was already starting to love the little girl in his charge, something he hadn't ever experienced in his life.

And, Mark had plans.  His girlfriend, Shelby, might make the perfect mother for Holly, and he was determined to bring together people who would love Holly.  After all, this was the little girl who wrote a letter to Santa saying she just wanted one thing for Christmas, "A mom."

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor could have been just another holiday romance.  But, Kleypas gave both of her lead characters a sense of humor, threw in a terrific relationship between Mark and his brother, Sam, and added a hilarious Thanksgiving scene.  Romance, a touch of humor, and an attractive small town setting makes for an enjoyable holiday treat.  And, since Kleypas' website indicates this is the first in her new contemporary series, there just might be romance on the way for Mark Nolan's brothers, Sam and Alex.  Whatever she chooses to do with the setting or the family, the books are sure to be as charming as Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor.

Lisa Kleypas' website is

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas.  St. Martin's, ©2010. ISBN 9780312605865 (hardcover), 224p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I requested a copy of the book from the publisher, in order to read and review it.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

Fannie Flagg successfully brings together Southern humor and a World War II story of adventure and courage in her latest novel,  The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion. I usually don't lead off the reviews with a personal comment, but, I loved this novel so much I'm going to recommend it for our suggested reading list for adults next summer.

Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, just married off the last of her three daughters, and is planning to relax. She won't have to be mother-of-the-bride when her son marries, so her only worry is her eighty-eight-year-old mother, Lenore Simmons Krackenberg. Everyone in town knows Lenore, a loud, opinionated woman who runs every club, and has run her daughter's life for fifty-nine years. Just as Sookie decides her two biggest problems are her mother and the fight to keep the blue jays from eating all the bird seed, she's knocked for a loop by a registered letter. It's a letter that will change everything Sookie has thought about her life.

That letter takes Sookie back in time to World War II, and her research will send her from Pulaski, Wisconsin to Texas and on to California. As a young woman, Fritzi Jurdabralinski returned home to take over her family's gas station when the men all headed off to war. And, as rationing grew worse, she found a higher calling, another way to help the war effort. Fritzi's story captivates Sookie, and changes the way she views her own life. It's a story that will also captivate the reader.

Fannie Flagg finds a way to link a quiet Southern wife and mother with a flamboyant daughter of Polish immigrants. And, it's a way to link the present with an easily forgotten history. Anyone who appreciated the women of "A League of Their Own" should pick up The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion. All of Flagg's books have humorous touches, but they also are stories filled with strong women, and women who do not even recognize their own strength. If you like southern novels and World War II forgotten stories, try this book. And, then come back and tell me what you thought.

Fannie Flagg's website is

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg. Random House. 2013. ISBN 9781400065943 (hardcover), 368p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Caught in the Act: Actors Acting by Howard Schatz, et al.

Caught in the Act: Actors Acting is a stunning book of photographs. Howard Schatz's photographs are
accompanied by Owen Edwards' writing. Beverly J. Ornstein edited this expensive, large book that should be considered as a gift for anyone caught up in acting (theater or film) and actors. Schatz' instructions to the actors led to fascinating portrayals.

Over eighty actors were asked to discuss acting. They talked about film, theater, how they found their passion. Each actor gave personal answers to the question. And, then Schatz directed them, and they portrayed what he asked. Sam Waterston, Amy Poehler, Geoffrey Rush, John Malkovich, Jane Lynch, Nathan Lane, Pierce Brosnan, Laurence Fishburne are just some of the actors given their roles. Do you know what Hugh Laurie would look like portraying "You're a new father, you've told your wife she should take a few days off with her sister, and the twins have come down with colic"? Eamonn Walker's roles are wonderful. I loved every one of his roles, but the expression on his face is priceless when he's told to portray, "You're a former power forward at Indiana, down on your luck, and two frat boys at the gym have just bet you 100 bucks you can't beat them both in a game to 21 points." Schatz' scenarios are very complete, but it's the actors who bring those scenarios to life.

Caught in the Act: Actors Acting is pricey, as I already said. However, it's a coffee table book offering hours of entertainment. It might be the perfect gift for the theater or film student in your life, someone who wants to study the actors today who are the best at what they do, and find out why they love the acting life.

Caught in the Act: Actors Acting by Howard Schatz, Beverly J. Ornstein, and Owen Edwards. Glitterati, Inc. 2013. ISBN 9780985169695 (hardcover), 303p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought the book.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Winners and a British Mystery Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Kevin T. of Plano, TX will receive Archer Mayor's Three Can Keep a Secret. David Hunter's Tempest at the Helm is going to Charlotte W. of Covington, GA. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm giving away two recent British mysteries. G.M. Malliet brings back former spy turned cleric, Max Tudor, in Pagan Spring. Max is settling in, with his biggest worry his Easter sermon, so he's eager to attend a dinner for some newcomers to Nether Monkslip. But, the death of one of the dinner guests puts Max right in the middle of another murder investigation.

Or, you could visit historical England in Tasha Alexander's Behind the Shattered Glass, a story of a ruined abbey on a beautiful Derbyshire estate, a murdered peer, upstairs/downstairs secrets, and an unlikely romance in a "Cinderella-meets-Downton Abbey story." Lady Emily Hargreave and her husband, Colin, are witnesses when a young aristocrat bursts through the doors, and falls down dead in front of a shocked gathering. And, there's more than one suspect in the young man's death.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Pagan Spring" or "Win Behind the Shattered Glass." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end Thursday, Nov. 14 at 6 P.M. CT.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom

 Mitch Albom's interest in life, death, and what happens after death has translated into a few well-known bestsellers. There's Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, For One More Day. Now, in The First Phone Call from Heaven, he says, "But now and then, a miracle is declared to the world. And when that happens, things change."

One Friday, a few people in Coldwater, Michigan answered their phone to find a deceased loved one on the other end. In most cases, the deceased assured the surviving relative or friend that they were fine. It was beautiful there. When the phone call came on a second Friday, each recipient had a different reaction. For one it was a feeling of peace. Another was desperate to receive a call, and didn't want to leave the house for fear of missing a phone call. And, when two people stood in church and announced they had received phone calls from heaven, the world took notice.

Sully Harding also took notice. A former pilot, he had been in prison when his wife died. Now, he's trying to start over as a single father of a young boy, Jules. And, when Jules asks when they're going to receive a phone call from his mother, Sully is angry. He's convinced the phone calls are a hoax, and, now his son is a victim. In order to prove the phone calls are phony, Sully does research at the public library. There must be something linking all of the people who claim to receive calls.

Albom tells the story of the changes in people and the community of Coldwater through the experiences of half of the people receiving calls. However, as a journalist himself, he also tells the story through the eyes of an ambitious reporter who comes to Coldwater and befriends one of the women who proclaimed she had heard from heaven. As the interest in the phone calls spreads, outsiders arrive in town; the media, the faithful who come to worship, the protesters, and representatives from the Catholic Church. The phone calls are the biggest thing ever to happen in town, and some people are eager to take advantage of the attention.

Mitch Albom challenges readers in each of his books. Do you believe in heaven? Do you believe some people communicate with the dead? Do you believe in miracles, and what is a miracle? Not everyone accepted the phone calls as miracles, and there was suspicion about some of the people. "You might think a person who brings proof of heaven would always be embraced. But even in the presence of a miracle, the human heart will say, 'Why not me?'"

The First Phone Call from Heaven is another one of Albom's thoughtful, inspiring novels. He leaves belief or disbelief up to the reader in this intriguing story. And, the storyteller in Albom says on the day the world received The First Phone Call from Heaven, "What happens next depends on how much you believe."

Mitch Albom's website is His Facebook page is  You can find him on Twitter at

The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom. HarperCollins. 2013. ISBN 9780062294371 (hardcover), 272p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy of the book in order to participate in the TLC blog tour.