Thursday, July 31, 2014

September Treasures in My Closet - Part 2

As I said, there are way too many books in my pile of September book releases. So, why wait? Here's the second half of those treasures in my closet.

Libby Fischer Hellmann's fourth Georgia Davis crime thriller is Nobody's Child. Libby says, "Think Karin Slaughter or Tess Gerritsen on steroids." A bloodstained note left for PI Georgia Davis reveals the shocking existence of a half-sister she never knew about, one who is begging for Georgia's help. Determined to track her down, Georgia finds herself heading deep into the dangerous underworld of Chicago's illegal sex trafficking business. As Georgia tries to extricate her sister, she finds herself in situation she might not survive. (Release date is Sept. 2.)

Station Eleven is Emily St. John Mandel's latest novel, a story of art, fame, and ambition set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse. One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world starts to dissolve. The story moves back in forth in time, following the actor and a theater troupe roaming the Great Lakes area. It's a story about relationships, fame, and the beauty of the world. (Release date is Sept. 9.)

Ben Kendall's death appeared to be that of a hoarder whose piles of stuff collapsed and killed him. But Joe Gunther and the Vermont Bureau of Investigation team discover that Ben brought back more than personal demons from Vietnam. He brought back combat photos and negatives. But, when a show featuring some of those photos is interrupted by the appearance of a hit squad, Joe and his team have to track killers. It's Proof Positive by Archer Mayor. (Release date is Sept. 30.)

Ian McEwan takes readers into the court of London High Court judge Fiona Maye in The Children Act. She specializes in "considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts". But, her personal life puts added pressure on her when she tries a case involving a devout seventeen-year-old when neither he nor his parents will permit the blood transfusion that will save his life because it conflicts with their beliefs. (Release date is Sept. 9.)

James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge team up for Burn, bringing Detective Michael Bennett back to New York City. Taking over an Outreach Squad in Harlem, he receives an unusual call about a group of well-dressed men holding a bizarre party in a condemned building. Bennett ignores the call, until a charred body in the same building, and he's forced to take the demented caller seriously. Burn draws the detective into an underground criminal world of terrifying depravity. (Release date is Sept. 29.)

The Button Man is a prequel to Mark Pryor's Hugo Marston series. Marston has just become head of security at the U.S. embassy in London, tasked with protecting a pair of spoiled movie stars whose reckless driving killed a prominent landowner in rural England. Before he even meets the couple, one of them disappears, and is found hanging from a tree, and the other slips away from his protector. Hugo's search leads to a quaint English village where a self-appointed executioner prepares for the final act of a murderous spree. (Release date is Sept. 2.)

Kathy Reichs takes forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan into her own past when a child killer resurfaces, one she and her former partner failed to capture years earlier. Now, in Bones Never Lie, she has one more chance to catch the most monstrous adversary she's ever seen. (Release date is Sept. 23.)

Christian Ruder is a mathematician, rock musician, and matchmaker who charts our online wanderings in Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One's Looking. Ruder uses Facebook, Twitter and Google to tell us more about ourselves. Sounds fascinating! (Release date is Sept. 9.)

If you're expecting Garth Stein to rewrite The Art of Racing in the Rain, you're in for a surprise. A Sudden Light is the story of a fourteen-year-old boy, Trevor Riddell, who tries to save his parents' marriage and uncovers a vast legacy of family secrets. Trevor's bankrupt parents have separated, and his father has plans to force his father into a nursing home, sell off the house and property, and divide the profits with his sister. But, as Trevor explores Riddell House, he discovers secret stairways, hidden rooms, and a ghost with an agenda of his own. (Release date is Sept. 30.)

Are you ready for your first Christmas book of the year? Lea Wait brings us Shadows on a Maine Christmas (An Antique Print Mystery). Maggie Summer has decisions to make this Christmas. Will she and the man she adores stay together? Or will this year's Christmas wish lead to time together next year? But, this year at Aunt Nettie's house, long-hidden secrets will be revealed, and blackmail and murder are only the beginning. It may be a Merry Christmas, but who knows who will be around to celebrate New Year's? (Release date is Sept. 9.)

Book 4 of Tyler Whitesides' Janitors series is Strike of the Sweepers. Janitors with wizard-like powers continue their battle. The stakes have never been higher while the rebels find themselves chased by Mr. Clean's new and terrifying Sweepers. (Release date is Sept. 9.)

Here's an interesting book that ends the list. S. Craig Zahler's Mean Business on North Ganson Street is a dystopian novel about a police officer, Detective Jules Bettinger, a hard guy to like. Bettinger is forced to relocate himself and his family from Arizona to the frigid north, a hellhole called Victory, Missouri. Victory is a collapsed rustbelt city, a dying city where there are seven hundred criminals for every law enforcer. When he and his new partner investigate a double homicide in which two policemen were slain, Bettinger begins to suspect the killings are a prelude to a series of cop killings. Mean Business on North Ganson Street is currently being adapted into a movie for Warner Brothers, with both Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio attached to the project. (Release date is Sept. 30.)

Two days of September releases. Do any of them interest you?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Congratulations to Beth Hoffman

Congratulations to Beth Hoffman! She has won the Ohioana Award for 2014 for Fiction for Looking for Me. What a wonderful honor! Toni Morrison won it in 2004. Today, it's Beth Hoffman! Well deserved.

September Treasures in My Closet - Part I

September has a wealth of book releases, so many that I'm splitting the posts in two parts. Welcome to the first part of the September Treasures in My Closet.

Siobhan Adcock links two mothers over the centuries in her suspenseful debut novel, The Barter. It's a ghost story and a love story, an emotional tale that explores motherhood and work and feminism. Set in Texas, in present day, and at the turn of the twentieth century, each young mother must face an ordeal of her own making. (Release date is Sept. 4.)

Are you ready for Agatha Raisin's twenty-fifth adventure? M.C. Beaton's latest mystery, The Blood of an Englishman takes Agatha Raisin to the theater, even though she hates amateur dramatics. But, her boredom turns to interest when the baker playing an ogre steps on a trapdoor, falls through, and there is silence. When she learns the popular man was murdered, she puts her team of private detectives on the case. (Release date is Sept. 16.)

Albert J. Bell, Jr. brings us the fifth case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, The Eyes of Aurora. Pliny and the love of his life, his servant Aurora, stumble upon the scene of a grisly murder while trying to help a woman search for her missing husband. Meanwhile, back in Rome, Pliny's mother is arranging a marriage that Pliny must accept, much against his wishes. (Release date is Sept. 9.)

Maureen Corrigan, the Fresh Air book critic, investigates the enduring power of a classic, The Great Gatsby. She calls it "The Great American Novel we all think we've read but really haven't." It's So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures. (Release date is Sept. 9.)

Kate Flora takes us into the true crime world in Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice. Investigators from two countries cooperate in the relentless pursuit of a brutal murderer, a man with a reputation for violence and drug abuse. When he threatens the officials and their families, they take him seriously. The Canadian police, frustrated by a fruitless search through miles of frozen wilderness, finally enlist the id of Maine game wardens along with cadaver dogs in order to find a killer. (Release date is Sept. 9.)

"Once upon time, there was a seventeenth century noblewoman forced to spend her life in a convent. While there, she wrote a tale of an innocent girl sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens - and locked away in a tower by a beautiful witch." Kate Forsyth's Bitter Greens is the sumptuous retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale, interwoven with the true life story of the woman who told the story. "From the decadent courts of Versailles to the romance of Venice, three women and three stories are braided together to create a tale of desire, black magic, and the redemptive power of love." (Release date is Sept. 23.)

Jacob Gowans takes readers into a fantasy world in A Tale of Light and Shadow. In Atolas, a world of swords and daggers, Henry and Isabelle have secretly sword to marry despite his lowly station as a carpenter. However, he commits an unthinkable act that may cost both of them their lives. At the same time, a prophecy threatens the thrones of rulers throughout the world. (Release date is Sept. 9.)

I have to admit Philip Gulley's A Place Called Hope is the treasure I'm anticipating. It's been a few years since the author of The Harmony Series has had a book. And, he'll be appearing at the library for us on Monday, Sept. 22. Gulley's launching a new series featuring Quaker Pastor Sam Gardner. When he is asked by the ill Unitarian minister to oversee a wedding in his place, Sam naturally agrees. It's only when he sees the couple that he realizes it's two women. In the tempest that follows, Sam faces potential unemployment. Then he receives a call from a woman in the suburban town of Hope, Indiana. They desperately need a pastor. Can Sam really leave his beloved hometown of Harmony? (Release date is Sept. 2.)

Skink No Surrender is Carl Hiaasen's first novel for teens. To avoid being shipped off to boarding school, Malley takes off with some guy she met online. Richard knows his cousin's in trouble before she does, so he teams up with Skink, the ragged, one-eyed ex-governor of Florida, a renegade who thinks he can track Malley down. Together the two scour the state for the missing girl. Blinding storms, crazed pigs, flying bullets, and giant gators won't stop their search. (Release date is Sept. 23.)

Here's a fun concept. Wouldn't It Be Deadly by D.E. Ireland is the first book in a new mystery series featuring amateur detectives Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion. Eliza becomes an assistant to Professor Higgins' chief rival Emil Nepommuck, who then publicly takes credit for transforming the Cockney flower girl into a lady. An enraged Higgins submits proof than Nepommuck is a fraud, but the man's murder puts Henry Higgins on the top of Scotland Yard's suspect list. It isn't long before Eliza and Higgins realize they have to discover the real killer in order to clear the professor. (Release date is Sept. 23.)

Thriller author Erin Kelly brings us Broadchurch, based on the story by series creator Chris Chibnall. This novelization of the television show follows Detectives Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller as they search for a young boy's killer in a quiet British seaside town. (Release date is Sept. 16.)

And, a perfect book to end with, undoubtedly a treasure from Dennis Lehane, With The Drop, the author takes readers back to the streets of Mystic River. Already set to be a movie, Lehane wrote the screenplay about a lonely bartender who rescues an abused puppy three days before Christmas, and meets a damaged woman looking for something to believe in. "As their relationship grows, they cross paths with the Chechen mafia; a man grown dangerous with age and thwarted hopes; two hapless stick-up artists; a very curious cop; and the original owner of the puppy, who wants his dog back." (Release date is Sept. 2.)

Now you can see why I'm sharing the treasures in two parts. There's a wealth of reading material here. Are you looking forward to any of these books?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

I'll admit I don't always make it through historical fiction. As much as I like history, sometimes I bog down in the details. And, so many historical novels tend to emphasize the details at the expense of the story. Daisy Goodwin certainly cannot be criticized for bogging down the story in one of the best historical novels I've read in years. The Fortune Hunter is a fascinating story of a love triangle in Victorian England.

At twenty, Charlotte Baird knew she was not beautiful. She was most content behind a camera, viewing it as a form of art. However, as the heiress to the Lennox fortune, she attracted a great deal of attention from her half-brother's friends. But, until she met Bay Middleton, a cavalry captain, Charlotte had little interest in any of them. Unfortunately, Bay had a reputation as a ladies' man, and a possible fortune hunter. He was a hard-riding horseman with little money of his own. And, just as Bay was trying to convince Charlotte that he was interested in her, and not her fortune, Elizabeth, the Empress of Austria, arrived in England.

Elizabeth had married the Emperor of Austria when she was sixteen, but she didn't share his interest in Austrian politics and governing. Instead, the Empress, who was known as the most beautiful woman in nineteenth century Europe, was a passionate horsewoman. Known as Sisi to her family, the Empress loved to escape the confines and formality of the royal court. When she arrived in England to hunt, Earl Spencer, her host, asks the best rider in England, Bay Middleton, to act as her pilot on the courses. Bay's obligation to his patron, Spencer, and the whispers about his relationship with Sisi, could ruin his chance to marry Charlotte Baird.

The Fortune Hunter is a riveting, fast-paced historical romance, all the more fascinating because of the few known facts behind the lives of the main characters, including tragic endings that are not part of this story, but are part of history. If you're looking for drama, history,Victorian society, romance, and a book by a masterful storyteller, pick up Daisy Goodwin's The Fortune Hunter.

Follow Daisy Goodwin online at She can also be found at and

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin. St.Martin's Press. 2014. ISBN 9781250043894 (hardcover), 480p.

Monday, July 28, 2014

My Family and Other Hazards by June Melby

What would possess an Iowa schoolteacher and his wife to mortgage their house and buy a miniature golf course in Wisconsin? As a child who worked every summer and many weekends at that course, from the time she was ten-years-old, June Melby often wondered that as well. But, when her parents sold Tom Thumb thirty years later, she was unprepared for the loss.  My Family and Other Hazards is Melby's memoir of those summers, and what they really meant.

While she was living through it, June Melby was eager to escape the work of a miniature golf course. As the middle child of three girls, she wasn't the one in charge, and she wasn't the delicate one. She was the rebellious one who questioned everything, but still respected her parents enough that her rebelliousness did not effect the business. She and her sisters were expected to work cleaning the course, painting it, waiting on customers. And, it was a never ending job; every summer, along with the weekends when they drove from Iowa to prepare the course for the summer opening, and the weekends they drove to close it up. Along the way, she lost Iowa friends, missed the in jokes in high school. But, when she ended up living in California, she found that she did her best to take her one vacation a year in the summer when she could end up back at Tom Thumb.

It was only when her parents were about to sell Tom Thumb that June Melby realized how much that course meant to her and her family. They all returned, to tell stories, and work in the ticket booth one last time. And, Melby realized that every obstacle on that course, all eighteen of them, could be seen as metaphors for life, and for her family life. Chapter by chapter, she tells that story. It's an account of parents totally unprepared to run a business, but who put thirty years of effort into it. It's a story of three sisters who remember hard work, and laughter.

At times, this book bogs down in the details of the miniature golf course, and all the work. It starts to feel a little repetitive. At the same time, it's the story of a unique childhood. My Family and Other Hazards is melancholy, with its memories of the past, hard work and family. June Melby never expected to miss Tom Thumb, but she found herself "crazy sentimental" when it came to losing her childhood home. And, it's those sentimental feelings that finally overcome the reader as well, sentiment for a vanished Midwestern past, and a vanished childhood. Melby tells of a life that most of us never lived, but she's able to remind us of family values and Midwestern summers. My Family and Other Hazards manages to tug at memories and hearts.

June Melby's website is

My Family and Other Hazards by June Melby. Henry Holt and Company. 2014. ISBN 9780805098310 (hardcover), 300p.

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

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cup of Blood by Jeri Westerson

If you've never read one of Jeri Westerson's Crispin Guest Medieval Noir mysteries, now is the perfect time. Cup of Blood, the new release, is a prequel to the series. You can meet Crispin Guest, the disgraced knight, and learn how he first met up with young Jack Tucker. And, if you've read any of the books in this historical mystery series, Cup of Blood will remind you why Crispin Guest and Jack Tucker make a terrific team.

Seven years earlier, Crispin Guest was stripped of his knighthood when he was found guilty of treason. He spent those years trying to survive, until he became the "Tracker", hired to find lost objects. He still remembers the people who turned their backs on him, though, and some of those people will end up involved in the strangest investigation of his career. Crispin is in his favorite London tavern when a young cutpurse tries to steal his purse. Crispin catches Jack Tucker, but when they approach one of the other men, thinking he was dead drunk, they discover he was just dead. And, his death leads Crispin into trouble. It seems the dead man was a Knight Templar, a warrior monk from the group that was abolished and disappeared seventy years earlier.

When Crispin convinces the sheriff that Jack didn't kill the man in the bar, the young street urchin begs to become Crispin's servant. Jack isn't always there to watch Crispin's back, but he's there to rescue him when men kidnap him, and demand he tell them where "it is". It's the first of a number of people who beg or insist that Crispin find or turn over some unknown item. How many people are determined to hire Crispin? Two groups of "monks", a secretive woman, and a woman from Crispin's past. This missing item, and the murder of a mysterious Knight Templar, may put Crispin in the worst danger of his life.

Westerson's prequel to the Crispin Guest series is a wonderful introduction to the disgraced knight. In the course of this mystery, set in 1384, she sets the stage introducing Crispin, Jack Tucker, and the story of Crispin's past. She tells his story, the story of his loss, his bitterness, and his lack of awareness that he actually has better friends with the working people than he ever had as a knight. It takes young Jack Tucker, a boy of only eleven or so, to open his eyes. "Here was a boy who had nothing. Far less than Crispin, no prospects, no shelter, no hope. Yet he was as cheerful a soul as he had ever met." Jack's street smarts and his innate intelligence make him one of my favorite characters.

Crispin Guest and Jack Tucker are the Don Quixote and Sancho Panza of 14th century London, on their own grand adventures to right wrongs and maintain the knight's code of chivalry and honor, even if Crispin is no longer a knight. It's a team that struggles through the cruelty and brutality that comes with Crispin's profession, hunting thieves and killers. Jeri Westerson's Cup of Blood is a riveting introduction to her characters, the setting, and medieval mysteries.

Jeri Westerson's website is, and she's on Facebook as Jeri Westerson (Crispin Guest).

Cup of Blood by Jeri Westerson. Old London Press. ISBN 9781497476127 (paperback), 310p.

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

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan

Do you have a favorite children's book, one that has always stayed with you? Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan is a favorite of three generations in my family. I just reread if for the oddest reason. I'm doing a brown bag lunch in a couple weeks. The topic is "The World at War", and I'm featuring books about World War I and World War II. And, I have to say, Snow Treasure remains one of my favorite novels about World War II.

When I was a kid, the edition I read said Snow Treasure was based on a true story. The current edition says, "For many years the story was believed true. But over 60 years later, there is no proof that it ever really happened." I don't care. In my heart and mind, this remains a story of the strength and courage of the Norwegian people, even the children, in the face of the Nazis. It will always be one of my favorite books.

In April 1940, the Norwegian people knew it wouldn't be long, and they might be invaded by the Germans. So, the people of the town of Riswyk devised an audacious plan. They had thirteen tons of gold worth nine million dollars. They weren't going to allow the Nazis to capture it. Instead, they formed teams of children, and sent them out to play on their sleds. On each sled, they tied gold bricks, and sent the children down toward the fjord to bury the gold in the snow until the sailors on Victor Lundstrom's fishing ship, the Cleng Peerson, could load it on the ship.

As a child, it was wonderful and terrifying to read this book. At twelve, Peter Lundstrom, Victor's nephew, is put in charge of all the teams of children. As you read about the determined children, who refused to speak to any Germans, and continued to work for the good of the their country, there's a feeling of pride that children could do this. Uncle Victor and the adults of the town may have devised the plans, but the children carried them out, having to face the Nazis on a daily basis.

Whether or not the story is true, I'd recommend it to any young reader as an adventure story filled with danger. It's inspiring to watch the children pull off their job. And, it's inspiring to witness the underground opposition to the Germans. Seventy-two years after it first came out, Marie McSwigan's Snow Treasure remains an exciting adventure story. And, I'm recommending it to a group of adults in a couple weeks.

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan. Scholastic Inc. 1942. ISBN 0-590-42537-4 (paperback), 156p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Scottoline Package Giveaway

You should all know that the mother-daughter author team Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella have a new essay collection just out called HAVE A NICE GUILT TRIP, since I reviewed it recently.

Lucky for you I have a copy of this book--plus their FOUR previous books--to give away to one lucky winner. (Yes, the winner gets all 5 books!) There will be one winner, and you must be from the U.S. to win.
I'd love to have you comment below with the name of the place you would sneak off to if you could manage a solo summer getaway. But, to enter the contest, email me at Your subject heading should read "Win 5 Scottoline Books." Please include your name and mailing address.  I'll pick one winner at random on Thursday night, July 31 at 6 PM CT.

You can also enter to win this awesome "Guilt Trip Giveaway" prize pack worth more than $1,000! Visit this page on Lisa's website for full details and the entry form

Oh, and I'd sneak back to New York City if I was going to sneak away for a trip. Where would you sneak off to by yourself?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Contest Winners

I have a fun contest tomorrow, one that's a little different, so I'm announcing the winners of this week's contest tonight instead of on Friday. Karen C. of Cleburne, TX won the copy of Sharon Bolton's A Dark and Twisted Tale. Cynthia F. of New York, NY won FaceOff. I'll put both books in the mail tomorrow.

And, I hope you stop by tomorrow to check out the terrific giveaway!

Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention by Claire Cook

What do you want to be when you grow up? Or, another way Claire Cook phrases it, "What would you like your life to be in five years and what's getting in your way?" Cook, the author of eleven novels, has turned to nonfiction for Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way). It's a thought-provoking, inspiring book. If you've thought about changing your career and following your passion, Cook's book just might provide the needed push.

Cook tells her own story, mixing in writing advice, career changing advice, and life stories of people who reinvented themselves. She says she always wanted to be a writer, but choked. She finally found her voice at 45, sitting in her minivan writing her first book. At fifty, she walked the red carpet when her book, Must Love Dogs, premiered as a movie. Cook is excited about the changes she made to her life, celebrates with the statement "Midlife Rocks!", and offers pointers to help others who want to change their lives.

The author points out that her books are aimed at women, and, in each of her novels the heroine is stuck in some way, trying to find her own next chapter. Her novels, and her life, are about reinvention. She's learned a few lessons along the way to reinvention, and she is generous in sharing those lessons and tips for moving to a different career and life. Cook relates her points with humor and anecdotes. And, for those of us who love animals, there are plenty of stories about cats and dogs, including one chapter called "Catitude".

If you're looking for a push, some tips, some inspiration, it might be time to check out Claire Cook's Never Too Late. Is it ever too late to ask "What is the thing you feel so passionately about that you'd do it for free?" Claire Cook reminds us it's Never Too Late.

Claire Cook's website is She's on Facebook at Claire Cook (author), and on Twitter as ClaireCookwrite.

Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way) by Claire Cook. Marshbury Beach Books. 2014. ISBN 9780989921084 (paperback), 290p.

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Murmurs of Insanity by Gerrie Ferris Finger

Gerrie Ferris Finger's first mystery, The End Game, introduced Moriah Dru, the ex-cop who started Child Trace, a specialty private investigative agency, and her lover, Richard Lake, an Atlanta Detective Lieutenant in Homicide. Many of Moriah's cases are for the juvenile justice system. In Murmurs of Insanity, though, she juggles one case of a juvenile drug runner who has disappeared, and one case as a favor for Lake. That case is enough to drive anyone insane.

Lake's ex-wife's half-brother, Baxter Carlisle, has been accused of stalking a college student. The wealthy restaurant owner denies it, but when the student's boyfriend, Damian Hansel, disappears, Baxter is the primary suspect. He doesn't take it seriously, but Moriah does. It seems both college students were artists. When traces of Damian start to show up; his cell phone, then some clothes, Moriah, Damian's father, and the police think something is seriously wrong. Baxter hires Moriah to prove he has nothing to do with Damian's disappearance. But, did he have anything to do with the death of another student artist? And, then Moriah's employee, a computer expert, finds that Damian's girlfriend doesn't really exist.

If all of this sounds confusing, it is. The investigation covers two Georgia cities, and Moriah is called back to Atlanta to deal with the missing juvenile drug runner. Drugs, the strange world of performance art, and murder make for an uneasy mix in this book. Moriah Dru specializes in cases involving juveniles, and Finger had to stretch to bring her into Baxter Carlisle's case. I'm not saying murder investigations aren't messy. But, the combination of these two cases didn't work for me.

Perhaps Murmurs of Insanity will work for someone who reads more for plot than character. Although I liked Finger's first book, The End Game, and have followed Moriah Dru and Richard Lake in the others in this series, I couldn't feel a great deal of sympathy for the characters in this one. When I see that the book is suggested for fans of Dennis Lehane, I think fans of Shutter Island, not fans of the Kenzie/Gennaro series. I would recommend it to suspense readers who enjoy novels with a warped, psychological bent.

Gerrie Ferris Finger's website is

Murmurs of Insanity by Gerrie Ferris Finger. Five Star. 2014. ISBN 9781432828585 (hardcover), 308p.

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

August Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obisidan

Eleven August mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian are definitely a treat. Jinx fans, though, will be a little disappointed. He was off napping somewhere. I did manage to interrupt Josh for a minute during his name, so the video book chat ends with a cameo. Oh, well. Are you here to learn about books or see cats? (smile)

Here is the list of the books from this month's chat.

Murder in the Mystery Suite by Ellery Adams (1st Book Retreat mystery)
Taken In by Elizabeth Lynn Casey (9th Southern Sewing Circle mystery)
Book Fair and Foul by Erika Chase (4th Ashton Corners Book Club mystery)
Billionaire Blend by Cleo Coyle (1st time in paperback, 13th Coffeehouse mystery)
Shear Trouble by Elizabeth Craig (4th Southern Quilting mystery)
Extra Sensory Deception by Allison Kingsley (4th Raven's Nest Bookstore mystery)
Death by Devil's Breath by Kylie Logan (2nd Chili Cook-Off mystery)
Well Read, Then Dead by Terre Farley Moran (1st Read 'Em and Eat mystery)
Death of a Crabby Cook by Penny Pike (1st Food Festival mystery)
If Catfish Had Nine Lives by Paige Shelton (4th Country Cooking School mystery)
The Cat, The Vagabond, and the Victim by Leann Sweeney (6th Cats in Trouble mystery)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hell With The Lid Blown Off by Donis Casey

As much as I enjoyed Donis Casey's The Wrong Hill to Die On, Alafair Tucker seems out of place when she leaves her family behind in Boynton, Oklahoma. The latest mystery brings together Alafair's family and friends in an unusual format for Casey, but it works brilliantly. Different characters, even the victim, share their viewpoints of the events leading up to the tragedy that strikes Boynton and the surrounding countryside.

In June, 1916, a twister hits the community, leaving some dead and injured. The accounts are broken into "Before", "During", and "After" that tragedy. Trenton Calder, a deputy working for Scott Tucker, the local sheriff, kicks off the narration, saying Jubal Beldon was killed the same summer the tornado hit, so at first everyone thought he was a victim of the twister. It wasn't long before the mortician and sheriff realized he had been murdered. But, as Trenton, and a number of other people point out, no one liked Jubal Beldon, and no one was mourning his loss. Even as families struggled to pull their lives back together, the sheriff's small staff questions townspeople. Alafair Tucker might be dealing with births, injuries, and damaged homes, but she always has time to listen. And, it's those listening skills, honed as a mother of ten, that helps her zero in on the answers.

In this latest mystery, the author successfully juggles everyday life, the devastation of a tornado, and a murder investigation. As always, she manages to incorporate social history with the life of the town and the Tucker family. And, she vividly describes the fear as the storm approaches and hits, the devastation afterward. Trenton Calder says, "The ruination north of town was unbelievable. It was like hell with the lid blown off." But, even with all the devastation, the search for Jubal's killer goes on. The author realizes that the tornado has left destruction, but Jubal Beldon was a storm himself, one that tormented people, delighting in their secrets.

The format, the characters, and the storyline combine to make this one of Donis Casey's best mysteries. Her characters are ordinary people dealing with life in 1916 in Oklahoma, with rumors of war. At the same time, life goes on. There are picnics, hints of romance, family life and births, and murder.This time, she gives us a victim that even the reader grows to hate, one who delights in playing on intimidation and fear. He knows that "In a tight little town like Boynton, where everybody knows everybody else, rumor was as damaging as fact." And, he capitalizes on that. Then, when someone blows up, and a tornado hits in the same week, Alafair Tucker, her family and friends, are left to pick up the pieces when it all strikes like Hell With The Lid Blown Off.

Donis Casey's website is

Hell With The Lid Blown Off by Donis Casey. Poisoned Pen Press. 2014. ISBN 9781464202988 (hardcover), 228p.

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Wrong Hill to Die On by Donis Casey

I always look forward to catching up with Alafair Tucker and her family in Donis Casey's
mysteries. I'm just catching up. And, The Wrong Hill to Die On might be a historical mystery set in 1916, but some of the problems in Arizona could have been ripped from today's headlines. Casey excels at storytelling, and she combines several storylines in this book.

Alafair Tucker is a farm wife in Oklahoma, where she and her husband, Shaw, have a large family, ten and growing as the older daughters marry. But, 1915/1916 brought rain, floods and illness. Most of the family recovered, but ten-year-old Blanche couldn't seem to shake her sickness, and the doctor recommended a warmer climate. Shaw and Alafair left the farm in the capable hands of their oldest children, and made the difficult train trip to Tempe, Arizona to stay with Alafair's younger sister, Elizabeth. Their arrival is news for just a short time. There are more exciting things for the townspeople to talk about.

And, after the Tuckers have a couple days to recuperate, Elizabeth throws a party so they can meet everyone. The party is overshadowed by the news that Pancho Villa has invaded New Mexico and set fire to a town before being chased back across the border. Feelings are running high against Mexicans. So some people are not surprised when Alafair finds Bernie Arruda's body in a ditch the morning after the party. Did racism play a part in his murder? Or, did Bernie's flirtatious ways finally anger a husband? Although Alafair plans to stay out of this investigation, Shaw knows she'll be as curious as always.

Donis Casey's mysteries are always fascinating, incorporating family life, cultural history, and history. This one, set in 1916, deals with racial issues, unrest involving Pancho Villa, Mexicans, and General Pershing, the shadow of war in Europe, and the roles of women. Casey spins a story of murder and secrets involving an Arizona community dealing with issues that still face the state today. But, she always grounds the story solidly with Alafair Tucker, a strong woman supported by the love of her husband and family. 

And, as good as The Wrong Hill to Die On was, I was as pleased to see Alafair and Shaw return home as their family was. Now, I'm ready to catch up with all the family in the new book, Hell with the Lid Blown Off.

Donis Casey's website is

The Wrong Hill to Die On by Donis Casey. Poisoned Pen Press. 2012. ISBN 9781464200441 (hardcover), 328p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I've had an ARC since 2012, and only now picked it up. The publisher sent it to me.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What Are You Reading This Weekend?

One of favorite authors, Donis Casey, has a new Alafair Tucker mystery out, Hell with the Lid Blown Off. I have a copy, but can't read it just yet, because I'm a book behind.

I know what happened. The Wrong Hill to Die On, her last one, came out in November 2012. That was a busy time for me. I was job hunting, and, then, once I accepted my job here in Evansville, I was getting ready to move. Moving just throws everything off.

I have to catch up with Alafair Tucker's family before I can start the next book. So, I'm currently reading The Wrong Hill to Die On, set in Tempe, Arizona, where Alafair, her husband, and daughter, have moved temporarily because of their daughter's health.

So, you can choose to answer any or both questions today. What are you reading this weekend? Or, what series are you behind in reading?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Winners and A Thriller Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Sharon B. of Albuquerque, NM and Dianne O. of Oak Park, IL won the copies of Glenn Cooper's The Tenth Chamber.

This week, I'm giving away two thrillers since Thrillerfest is just over. In fact, some lucky person will win a copy of  FaceOff edited by David Baldacci, this year's collection from International Thriller Writers. This is the book in which "The world's greatest thriller characers meet head-to-head in 11 electrifying stories." For instance, Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly wrote about Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch working a case together. It's a marvelous collection.

Or, you could win Sharon Bolton's A Dark and Twisted Tide.  Flint recently joined the marine policing unit. She's living in London's riverboat community when she finds a shrouded body in the River Thames. Her team suspects the body was deliberately left for Lacey to find.

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 FaceOff" or "Win A Dark and Twisted Tide." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end next Thursday, July 24 at 6 PM CT. Good luck!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Have a Nice Guilt Trip by Lisa Scottoline & Francesca Serritella

Reading the latest collection of essays by Lisa Scottoline and her daughter, Francesca Serritella, is like hanging out with sisters or girlfriends for a couple hours. There's no telling where the conversation will lead; anywhere from puppies to diamond rings to adult diaper rash. It's all worth laughing about in Have a Nice Guilt Trip.

The columns in this collection are laugh aloud funny because they are about a woman's everyday life. The reader is lucky enough to get two perspectives. One is Lisa's, that of a fifty-seven-year-old woman who knows about grey hairs, chocolate cake in the house, and being part of the sandwich generation. Francesca, at twenty-seven, observes life in New York, her friend's baby envy, and problems with trying to watch Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad with an absent boyfriend. There's humor in most of the essays, but it's funny because it is laced with truth. Any animal lover can relate to the death of a dog in "Dog Years", understanding when Scottoline says, "We also associate them with the times of our lives, and so their loss brings into relief our own passage of time." And, she strikes a blow for single women at Valentine's Day in the article "Engagement Ring-A-Ding Ding." And, it's fun to read about gummi vitamins in "With Apologies to Mary Poppins".

Once a year, it's just fun to catch up with Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella. Their books are about family, life, and laughter. Have a Nice Guilt Trip is the latest fun visit with "The Flying Scottolines". It's well worth the trip.

The audiobook of Have a Nice Guilt Trip is also available from Macmillan Audio (978-1427232939), and I understand it's terrific, read by the authors. Would you like to hear a segment?

Lisa Scottoline can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and at (And, a week from Friday, I'll have a terrific giveaway, a collection of five of her books. Be sure to stop back!)

Francesca Serritella can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and at

Have a Nice Guilt Trip by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella. St. Martin's Press. 2014. ISBN 9780312640095 (hardcover), 279p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee

Lewis Buzbee's The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is called both a memoir and a history. It is both. It's
the story of his love affair with books and bookstores. It's also a history of printing, publishing, and bookselling. Or, as he says, it "extols the virtues of the brick-and-mortar bookstore".

As someone who loves the world of books, bookstores and libraries, there are passages I loved. Upon entering a bookstore, he says, "I can't help but feel the possibility of the universe unfolding a little, once upon a time." The book, originally published in 2006, and updated in 2008, acknowledges the Internet, recognizes the growth of Amazon, but predates the closure of Borders. While noting the closing of so many independent bookstores, it also celebrates the growth of new ones. Eight years, the time span since the book originally came out, seems an eternity in the world of bookstores.

Buzbee worked in bookstores, and as a publisher's rep to bookstores. Most of all, he is a lover of books. He celebrates the history of of books, the history of publishing. He talks about bookstores, their roles in the battles against censorship, famous bookstores, and his favorite ones. And, for all of us who were once adolescents who were awakened by the discovery of one special book, or the discovery of the world of books, he offers recognition. "Take someone who likes to read; give her a comfy place to do so and ample time for doing it, add one good book, and then more; stand back."

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is a little nostalgia, some history, and a glimpse of optimism for the future of books and readers. Lewis Buzbee knows that it's still important for someone to put a book in another person's hands. So, just to satisfy the curiosity of an author who won't read this commentary, I'll trace the history of this particular copy. It's a paperback, a reprint of the hardcover. I don't know where it originally came from, but someone bought it used at Powell's Books. And, then, they donated it to our library, where I bought it from the Friends' bookstore. So, for Lewis Buzbee. It came from a books-and-mortar bookstore to a public library, the two places where people still put books in people's hands, and still celebrate and talk about books. A perfect path for The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop.

Lewis Buzbee's website is

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee. Graywolf Press. 2006. ISBN 9781555975104 (paperback), 225p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought my copy at the Friends of the Library bookstore.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Jeri Westerson, Guest Blogger

Do you know Jeri Westerson's character, Crispin Guest? Crispin is "a disgraced knight reduced to
living by his wits on the mean streets of 1384 London, England." He's been featured in six mysteries. Now, you can read the prequel to the series, Cup of Blood. Westerson combines medieval mystery with hard-boiled detective stories in her "Medieval Noir". She has a fascinating post for us today about London and medieval crime. Thank you, Jeri!

Books, London, and Medieval Crime

Sometimes it feels a bit strange to take a piece of history and plunk my own fiction smack dab in the middle of it. But I guess it happens all the time with authors. We often take a slice of reality and twist it into our own fiction.

History is different.

Those of us who write historically, that is, in an historical setting, bow a bit to history. We like to leave the facts alone but hang our fiction on the actual timeline like so much laundry. It’s our unwritten contract with our readers, that the history presented is real. And readers appreciate stepping into, for a brief moment, another place and time. It’s what makes reading historical fiction, and especially historical mysteries, so enticing.

My series, the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series, features a disgraced knight turned detective on
the mean streets of fourteenth century London. He’s a bit of a hardboiled fellow, which is why I style these as “Medieval Noir,” a little darker and grittier than your Brother Cadfaels. He is always in search of a religious relic or venerated object, the McGuffin that keeps the plot moving, such as a Veronica’s Veil, the Spear of Logninus, or even the Holy Grail. What motivates Crispin is his intense sense of honor, curiosity, and a penchant for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The setting is London, and the city takes on its own character as the series continues. The dark streets, the shadowed alleys, are perfect places for murder. But was justice truly served on the streets of London way back in the 1300s?

London was a big town, the second largest city in Europe, next to Paris. It boasted 50,000 inhabitants in Crispin’s time. How do you police a city that big without a police force; when the idea of forensics wasn’t even a gleam in anyone’s eye? It’s all about the mores of the period, the way people believed one should behave. In the Middle Ages, it was all about community, not the individual. You couldn’t be alone in this society, you couldn’t—or shouldn’t—stand out.

In this period, everyone worshipped in the same church with the same set of beliefs, and those who stood outside that—Jews and Muslims—were made to feel their outsider status. People lived closely together in a city divided into parishes, where you shopped amongst people you knew, gossiped with them, prayed with them, suffered with them. If a crime was committed in your parish, chances are you knew who the perp was. And so the onus of a crime such as murder was put on the ordinary citizen’s shoulders. If you found a body, you were designated the “First Finder,” that is, the first person to find a body, would call the “Hue and Cry”—literally, crying out. Hutesium et clamor, "a horn and shouting." Originally, they would follow the perpetrator from house to house. If the death was found to be accidental, it might be decided at once. If, however, the death was murder, more work was called for, and this involved the whole community. In a country village, this meant the whole village. In a big city like London, this would mean the immediate parish.

The Finder was obliged to go to the first four houses nearby and question the residents. Then the Coroner was called. This wasn’t a Quincy-type coroner, but someone with an entirely different and non-medical role. And woe betide the Finder if you didn’t accomplish your task, for the sheriffs would fine you if you shirked your duty. Want to make a guess as to how many people silently slipped away to allow another poor schmuck to become the First Finder?

Of course, most of our jurisprudence comes from this time period, not only the terms used in the law and in the courts, but many of the laws themselves. King Henry II (the one who sparred with Thomas Becket) invented the trial by jury. But instead of a jury of people who didn’t know you, the jury was stocked with people whoall knew you. How else was justice to be served if they didn’t already know everything about you? But justice was served, and if England was good at anything, it was the best at keeping records. All sorts of criminal records were kept in detail and come down to us today (you think we’re a litigious society? We had nothing on medieval Brits, who sued everyone from poor to rich, women suing men, and so forth).

As an example, Newgate prison was a place that kept prisoners incarcerated before their trial. It was literally a gate in the walls of the city. Between the years 1281 and 1290 in 200 cases of homicide, only 21% were found guilty. Juries did their best to mete out justice, but there was always bribes to the sheriffs to make sure you got off, too. Nothing ever changes.

In the 12th century, murder came in two kinds: Murdrum, the slaying of someone in secret, the kind we like to have in our mysteries, and Simplex Homicidrum, an unplanned killing, something either in self-defense or accidental. This was all about intention. Just as sin was about intention, or in the case of confession, intending not to sin again in order to be absolved, murder sentences were all about the intent of the perpetrator. Later Manslaughter was added to the list, the slaying in hot blood, like something in a duel or finding you wife in the act of committing adultery and slaying the man. This sort of justice is how a tightly regimented society survived. And the penalties were steep. So the intention of the murderer then as now was important as to whether to you lived or died.

What of forensics? Was it even possible when the idea of the scientific method was still hundreds of years away?

What about fingerprints?

In Nova Scotia, there are cave drawings of a hand with all the ridges and lines associated with palm creases and fingerprints, a drawing 1200 years old.

In ancient Babylon, thumb impressions in clay were used for business transactions.

In China, thumbprints were used on clay seals for the same purpose.

In fourteenth century Persia, some official documents show finger impressions, and a physician of the time was recorded to observe that no two fingerprints were alike.

It wasn’t until 1892 in Argentina, that a murder was solved by the use of a bloody fingerprint and matching them to the murderer. The idea was finally taking hold that fingerprints were individual.

But since there was no medieval fingerprinting, that wouldn’t help my detective at all.
How about the use of insects to solve crimes—forensic etymology? We have an example in at least one celebrated instance.

The earliest account of someone using insects to solve a murder comes from thirteenth century China in the Hsi Duan Yu or The Washing Away of Wrongs, a collection of anecdotes and observations on death and decomposition. Here’s the account in a nutshell: A local peasant in a Chinese village was found murdered, hacked to death by a hand sickle, something used to harvest grain. The local magistrate suspected that he was done in by another farmer. He called all the farmers together in the town square and had them present their sickles, laying them on the ground in the hot sun. As they waited anxiously for the magistrate to continue, blow flies started to gather. Strangely, they only seemed to land on one of the sickles. Even though the sickle was cleaned, the flies were attracted to the remaining blood and soft tissue evident only to them on the metal blade. Very clever and very effective. The man who owned the sickle then confessed and was hauled away for murder.

A detective needs to be clever, patient, and ready with his fists or dagger. Whether he likes it or not in a society so bent on community, he is still an outsider, the perfect match to a murderer in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Jeri Westerson's website is

Cup of Blood by Jeri Westerson. CreateSpace. 2014. ISBN 9781497476127 (paperback), 310p.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Agatha Christie Potpourri

No spoilers! I'm looking for some suggestions for tonight, but don't spoil the ending if someone hasn't read  Murder on the Orient Express.

I'm leading a book discussion about Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express tonight. It's not really an easy discussion to prepare to do. What questions should I lead with? This is a great group, and I don't really need to have a lot of questions. And, everyone will have read the book, so we can discuss the end. I did do some research, though. I watched the 1974 version of the movie (fun entertainment with a terrific cast!), and the David Suchet PBS version (religion? Where did that come from?), but we'll probably discuss the book much more than the movie.

I did some research, as I said. I used a number of older titles I found at the library. I'd still love to see some of the questions you would want to discuss. The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie, edited by Dick Riley and Pam McAllister helped me with one of them. In this book, Jerry Keucher's essay, "Hercule Poirot: The Man and the Myth", says, "The deepest part of his character can be expressed in the simplest words: Hercule Poirot did not approve of urder; those who perpetrated murder had to be brought to justice....He thought first of justice and was suspicious of mercy-misplaced mercy, that is....But his passion for truth and knowledge was such that blind justice could have found no better seeing-eye dog than Hercule Poirot." Here's my question. Was justice served in Murder on the Orient Express?

Daw B. Sova gives us Agatha Christie A to Z: The Essential Reference to Her Life & Writings. The article that summarizes Murder on the Orient Express says that the novel is based upon actual events that occurred in 1929 and 1932. I'm sure most of you know that one of the events was the 1932 kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, when Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh paid a ransom of $50,000, but the baby was found murdered. In fact, Christie uses the actual suicide of a servant as one of the motives in the mystery. The other incident that influenced the plot was a 1929 trip when the Orient Express train crossed the Turkish border and was snowbound for six days.

Vanessa Wagstaff and Stephen Poole are the authors of Agatha Christie: A Reader's Companion.
Each novel is summarized, with background, the storyline, reviews, photos of first editions, and information about spin-offs. Christie thought the 1974 film was excellent, but criticized "the paucity of Finney's moustache". "Poirot eventually reaches two possible solutions which he reports to his friend M. Bouc, the director of the railway company, leaving his friend to decide which he prefers. The adoption of either solution would allow the person or persons responsible to go free." Is Poirot an accomplice to murder? Why do you think he offered two solutions?

I also used Agatha Christie: First Lady of Crime, edited by H.R.F. Keating. That book, published in 1977, included articles by a number of well-known writers from the '70s; Celia Fremlin, Michael Gilbert, Dorothy B. Hughes, Emma Lathen, Julian Symons. All of the black-and-white photos in this book are striking. The most valuable piece, though, was Keating's portrait of Poirot.

This book discussion group is terrific. The discussion leader varies month-to-month, but I've always been impressed by the preparation that goes into the discussions. Now, it's my turn. I have a cast of characters, a few questions, a simple plot summary. Tell me, but don't give away the ending, what would you ask?