Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Drop by Dennis Lehane

The Drop, Dennis Lehane's latest book is going to be a movie, and Lehane wrote the screenplay. It's easy to visualize the characters, all of them troubled and haunted by their pasts. It's always interesting to enter Lehane's dark, lonely world.

Bob Saginowski has been a bartender, a fixture at Cousin Marv's in the Flats for years. Despite his evenings at work, he's a lonely man, living in the house he inherited, buying few possessions. "It would bring him no closer to what he wanted because all he wanted was to not be alone, but he knew there was no getting rescued from that." He has a routine. Daily mass at St. Dominic's, where he's gone his entire life. Work at night. Then, two days after Christmas, when he's walking home, he hears a noise, and follows the sound, finding an abused puppy thrown away in a barrel. And, then a woman, Nadia, calls out to him, asking about the dog. Three needy souls, needing a reason for hope in a lonely world.

But, despite his isolation, Bob's job at the bar involves him in a life he'd rather forget. There's Marv, who lost the bar to the Chechen mob; there's a man recently released from prison who knows a little too much about Bob's dog and Nadia; there's the two men who robbed the bar, taking money from the pockets of the mob; and there's Detective Evandro Torres. Torres has had his own ups-and-downs in his career, and he's convinced Bob knows more than he's telling about the robbery in the bar, and a ten-year-old neighborhood disappearance.

If The Drop doesn't sound like a story about hope, you'll be surprised. It's a short story, a novel about desperation. All the characters are desperate to survive, hoping for a better life. If you can't change the past, is there a way to live with it, and move on? Is crime and money the way to a better life? Is it a different job, a different country? Or is it a dog and a friend?

Dennis Lehane's novels always make me stop and think. Can you be a good person, and still live with your past? What means hope and success to one person may be totally different to another, particularly in a world where everyone is struggling. Every featured character has their own story of loneliness and hope in The Drop. Once again, Lehane has given readers a complex situation, with a complicated man at the center of it. Bob Saginowski really just didn't want to be alone.

Dennis Lehane's website is

The Drop by Dennis Lehane. William Morrow. 2014. ISBN 9780062365446 (paperback), 207p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I picked up an ARC at a conference.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Some Favorite Blogs

Time was at a premium all this week, so I didn't get the reading done that I usually do. So, I thought I'd do something a little different with the small amount of time I have when I'm writing this late in the evening. I'm going to share the blog links for five of my favorite people who tend to write predominantly about crime fiction. There are lots of us out there who love crime fiction, and love to talk about it. And, I adore the Jungle Red Writers site, probably my favorite out there. But, today I'm going to talk about blogs written by individuals. I regularly check out these five blogs.

Let's start with Jen Forbus. I think Jen and I have been corresponding the longest, and we're both from northern Ohio. Jen writes Jen's Book Thoughts where she reviews crime fiction, interviews authors, and introduces readers to authors we might not have discovered. Jen's the one who first introduced me to Craig Johnson's Longmire books. And, over time, she has had some original ideas as to blog features. I love her Five on Friday feature where she asks an author five questions.

Wish me luck on this one. While I was writing this post, Meanderings and Muses wouldn't load for some reason. Kaye Wilkinson Barley writes this blog, a friend I've never met, but I love. She and I are rooming together for Bouchercon in 2015, though. Kaye writes some reviews, some comments about life, and she's funny, thoughtful, witty, and sometimes angry. I love her. And, if you've ever read Kaye's blog, you've "met" her adorable Corgi, Harley Barley. This year, Harley teamed up with Kaye for the book,
My Name is Harley and This is My Story. Kaye is also the author of Whimsey, a novel of magical realism. (And, if I really love a book, I could almost bet money that Kaye will too.)

My best friend from Arizona, Chantelle Aimee Osman, writes The Sirens of Suspense. It's "An Anthony Award-nominated website on all things mystery". Chantelle features blogs, reviews, interviews and giveaways on her site. She spotlights authors who often are new to me.

Kevin's Corner is by friend and reviewer Kevin Tipple. Kevin features book reviews, links to some other terrific blogs, giveaways, and sometimes roundups of other crime fiction news, as well as guest posts.

And, then there's Mystery Fanfare, written by the seemingly indefatigable Janet Rudolph. No one has the news in the mystery field any sooner than Janet. She also writes the Dying for Chocolate blog. She's the editor of Mystery Readers Journal, and director of Mystery Readers International. She is the writer/producer for Murder on the Menu. Janet covers everything mystery on her site; news, events, books, mystery cartoons. I'm in awe of Janet and her work.

Every one of us puts a little different slant on our blogs. I probably spotlight cozy and traditional mysteries more than the others do. And, I review a little of everything, with a focus on mysteries. If you're a mystery lover, you might want to check out these other five blogs.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Winners and America in the Past Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contests. Charlotte W. of Covington, GA won the ebook of Lucky Catch. The autographed copies of Josie Belle's Marked Down for Murder will go to Kimberly W. of Springdale, AR, Linda L. of Lufkin, TX, Brandi A. of Fremont, CA, and Jeanette G. of Cleveland, TN. The books will go out today.

This week, I have two mysteries set in America's past. Donis Casey takes readers to Arizona in 1916 in The Wrong Hill to Die On. Alafair and Shaw Tucker traveled there from Oklahoma, hoping their young daughter would recover from her lung ailment. But, they found a lot wrong when they arrived there. Alafair's sister is having marriage problems. Tensions are high between the Anglo and Latino communities following Pancho Villa's recent raid in New Mexico. And, then Alafair finds a Mexican American man dead in a ditch, murdered.

Eleanor Kuhns takes readers even further back in Cradle to Grave. Will Rees is adjusting to life on his Maine farm in 1797, but he's already hungering for the freedom of the road. But, a letter from an old friend in Mount Unity, New York sends him there, where a friend in a Shaker community is is trouble for kidnapping five children, claiming their mother is unfit. By the time Rees realizes he can't do anything, he receives worse news. The mother has been found murdered, and Rees' friend is the prime suspect.

So, Arizona in 1916 or New York in 1797? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at The subject heading should read either "Win The Wrong Hill to Die On" or "Win Cradle to Grave." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, Sept. 4 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thursday's Reading

So, what are you reading today? Every time I go out in the evening, as I did for the book discussion this week, it throws off my schedule. So, I'm still reading Deborah Coonts' Lucky Catch. (And, don't forget one "lucky" reader will win an ebook copy of it.)

So, tell me what you're reading today. Or, share what's on your TBR pile. What are you planning to read over the long weekend? I'd love to know what books you're reading!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Deborah Coonts and Lucky O'Toole

When they asked me what Deborah Coonts could write as a guest post, I said I'd love to see an interview with her character Lucky O'Toole. Coonts' new book,  Lucky Catch, is now available, so it's the perfect time to catch up with Lucky, or, if you haven't yet read one of the books, to meet this Las Vegas troubleshooter. Thank you, Deb, and Lucky.


Conducted by: Deborah Coonts

Today we are delighted to have with us, Lucky O'Toole, the Vice- President of Customer Relations at Babylon Enterprises, the parent company of major Vegas Strip properties the Babylon and the soon-to-open, Cielo.

DEBORAH COONTS; Welcome, Ms. O'Toole.

LUCKY: Delighted to be here, and call me Lucky.

DC: Vice-President - a pretty lofty title. What do you do, exactly?

LO: Titles are bones given to employees so they feel special and keep doing the work they were doing before. So, I am what I have always been, the Babylon's chief problem-solver.

DC: What does that mean?

LO: Well, if anyone in the hotel, including guests, entertainers, high-rollers, gamblers, patrons, our celebrity partners who partner with us in five star restaurants, nightclubs and performing venues, if any of them have a problem, I'm their go-to gal.

DC: Sounds juicy. Can you give us an example?

LO: Well, recently, we hosted a celebrity chef contest called the Last Chef Standing.

DC: It was hotly contested, as I recall.

LO: Yes, a couple of chefs were murdered and the prize truffle for the contest went missing.

DC: And it fell to you to help solve the crimes?

LO: It was personal.

DC: Ah, yes, your lover, Jean-Charles Bouclet was implicated.

LO: I can't talk about it. It's an ongoing case.

DC: Let me ask you this: How are you handling the triumphant return of your former lover, Ted Kowalski, also known as the Great Teddie Divine, Las Vegas' premier female impersonator? Am I right in understanding he is going to be performing in his former venue at the Babylon?

LO: We are in negotiations.

DC: I bet. Sounds...complicated.

LO: (Lucky laughs.) You have no idea.

DC: Your job sounds like it is very demanding. How did you come by the skills necessary to handle it?

LO: Being raised in a whorehouse helped. My mother is a former hooker and madam of the best whorehouse in Nevada, Mona's Place. It's in Pahrump. There I saw all manner of bad behavior. I learned to deal with it and to sometimes defend myself.

DC: You really are a walking billboard for Vegas, aren't you?

LO: My father is Albert Rothstein, one of the men who shaped Vegas from a mob-ridden speak-easy of a town to the glitz and glamour it is today. I didn't know he was my father until recently - still getting used to the idea.

DC: So, he didn't pull any strings to get you where you are?

LO: I've clawed my way up the corporate ladder like anyone else. Spent time in every aspect of the operation from bartending to housekeeping, to the banquet kitchen.

DC: And your mother?

LO: My mother is simply, Mona. And most days, she's my biggest problem of all.

One lucky winner will receive an ebook copy of Lucky Catch. By 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 28, either comment here with your email address, or send your name and email address to me at if you don't want to put it on the blog. If you email me, use the subject line "Win Lucky Catch." That's all I'll need, your email address, so I can forward it to Deb's publicist, and they can make arrangements with you.

More about Deborah Coonts, herself? Here's what she writes.

I am proof positive that sex sells...and persistence pays off. After fifteen years learning the craft of writing, I am now officially, an overnight success. And it's been a long road to get here...

My mother tells me I was born in Texas a very long time ago, but I'm not so sure - my mother can't be trusted. These things I do know: I was raised in Texas on barbeque, Mexican food and beer. I've lived in every time zone in the U.S.; the most memorable stint being the time spent in Las Vegas, where I currently reside and where family and friends tell me I can't get into too much trouble...silly people.

The only constant in my life (besides my family, who deserves hazardous duty pay for sticking with me) had been change (my mother is still waiting for me to group up). Silly woman.

But all of this career ADD made me incredibly unemployable. Hence the whole writing thing.

Actually, I've known from a young age that somehow stories would be a large part of my life, but my path to telling lies for a living (okay, not lies per se, but variations of the truth, for sure) has been circuitous. If someone had just told me when I was a kid that I could actually be paid to daydream for a living, life would have been soooo much easier. But they didn't. And I never saw a 'daydreaming' booth at all those Career Days I attended.

So, initially discouraged when unable to locate anyone willing to pay me to read books, go to the movies, or attend the theatre, and in need of providing for the best child in the world, my son Tyler, I spent years being someone else - an accountant (blech), a business owner (pretty fun), a lawyer (loved law school, hated practicing law), a pilot (giddy and terrifying at the same time). but through it all, I wrote. Along the way I wrote the world's worst novel, a slightly more well-crafted buy equally as poorly plotted novel, several non-fiction feature articles (my first sales!), multiple humor columns for a national magazine (more sales!), and, finally, the novel that sold, Wanna Get Lucky?, the first in a series to be published by Forge Books. The series is a Sex and the City meets Elmore Leonard in Vegas kind of thing, if you can imagine that. Okay, have several glasses of wine, then think about it...makes imagining easier. Anyway, the books are sexy, wry, romantic, and slightly naughty mixed with a little murder and mayhem - shaken, not stirred- then illuminated by the bright lights of Las Vegas - one of the truly magical cities in the world.

Many of my friends have asked me how in the world I came up with the Lucky series. The way they asked led me to believe they thought mind-altering substances might have been involved even though they knew the worst I do is a glass of fine Pinot-Noir. The answer to their question is actually very simple: let your fifteen-year-old male child pick where you live, follow his dream to Vegas, then keep your eyes open.

Hey, it worked for me!

Deborah Coonts' website is

Lucky Catch by Deborah Coonts. Cool Gus Publishing. 2014. ISBN 9781621251828 (paperback), 258p.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

This year, for One Book, One Community, we're discussing Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts. And, the entire community is involved with all kinds of events. It started with the Evansville Museum of Arts, History, and Science, and their decision to exhibit a quilted book made by a Holocaust survivor. They asked the library if we could pick a book for One Book. The theme for the community has become "Evansville Remembers". The symphony will perform "War Requiem". Our PBS station is showing documentaries. We are reading In the Garden of Beasts, discussing it in book groups, and hosting Erik Larson on Oct. 28.

In the Garden of Beasts is subtitled "Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin". It's the story of Ambassador William E. Dodd, his wife, along with his adult son and daughter, who served in Berlin from 1933 to 1937, during Hitler's rise to power. While Dodd's daughter, Martha, launched herself wholeheartedly into the German society, flirting and dating all kinds of men, from Nazis to Soviet Communists, her father, a quiet scholar, seemed unable to fit into the social scene. He actually had hoped to use his time in Berlin to work on his pet project, a book called Old South. Instead, the entire family was caught up in the drama and politics of Germany in the '30s.

Was Dodd the right man for that time and place? Most in the State Department and Diplomatic Corps did not think so. He was laughed at for being economical. He was as sheltered and ignorant as the rest of the world when he went to Berlin, accepting the Nazis. But, over time, the entire family became disillusioned. And, Dodd himself started to warn the world about what was coming.

In the Garden of Beasts is a story to evoke terror. The Dodds witnessed the arrest and killing of friends before they finally left Germany. And, Larson is honest in presenting the brutality that arose in the country. It's not an easy book to read. It's as if we were watching a naive American family standing in front of a runaway train. One American ambassador could not change American politics when interest at home involved getting money back from the debt the Germans owed. And, Martha comes across as a shameless woman who would do almost anything for excitement. She never really redeems herself in the course of the book.

Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts is a powerful, scary book. Tomorrow night, one book group will meet in a local German restaurant, the perfect setting to discuss this account of a tragic time in world history. In Larson's notes at the end, he said "What I did not realize as I ventured into those dark days of Hitler's rule was how much the darkness would infiltrate my own soul." I can see that it would.

Erik Larson's website is

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Random House (Broadway Paperbacks), 2011. ISBN 9780307408853 (paperback), 450p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library Book

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

Every year I have a difficult time reviewing Louise Penny's new book. How do I comment on a beautifully written, moving book without giving anything away? It's as difficult to review a Chief Inspector Gamache novel as it is to read it. There is no other book I read during the year that I read every word while shutting out the world. Penny's words are perfect in The Long Way Home. She gathers readers into the world of Three Pines, welcomes us as friends, and then, in this case, sets us on a journey into a strange inexplicable world. This time, it's the world of a soul.

While Reine-Marie Gamache is enjoying retirement in Three Pines, Armand is appreciating the village as a sanctuary, a place he's loathe to leave. But, when Clara Morrow asks for help, he can't say no. He himself had been saved by love. How can he deny anyone else that opportunity? For Peter Morrow hadn't come home on the one-year-anniversary of his expulsion from his house, his marriage, the village. And, Clara had waited as long as she could. She wanted to know why Peter didn't come home. First, they track Peter's movements, but when it becomes important to ask questions in person, a small band of friends set out into the world searching for a lost soul.

While they all admit Peter had lost his way, and had no substance to his art, it was Jean-Guy Beauvoir who understood. "A part of him understood Peter Morrow. The part Beauvoir admitted to very few. The fearful part. The empty part. The selfish part. The insecure part. The cowardly part of Jean-Guy Beauvoir understood Peter Morrow." And, Jean-Guy could understand why Peter ran from himself. So, he signed on for the search, thinking he would follow the man he always had, Armand Gamache. But, in this case, Gamache turned the lead over to Clara. She led with her heart. Myrna, Jean-Guy, and Gamache followed in the quest for a lost man.

Penny takes readers and her characters deeper into a world she has explored before. I found myself looking up mysterious places in Scotland, and Canadian artists who painted the wilderness. Because it's art that leads the explorers deeper and deeper into two wildernesses, that of Canada, and that of the soul. And, as always, it's poetry, even that of a poet considered mad, Ruth, that provides hints to the direction a soul can take.

Once again, Louise Penny has used art and poetry to illustrate home, loneliness, love and fear. The small band of friends travels into the Canadian wilderness, the place the explorer Cartier called "the land God gave to Cain", what Gamache calls "A coast so forbidding, so hostile it was fit only for the damned". But, sometimes, a journey is essential, as illustrated in the book Gamache uses for balance, searching for his own home, The Balm in Gilead. The title is based on an old spiritual, "There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There's power enough in Heaven/To cure a sin-sick soul." And, once again, we're privileged to travel with men who understand those lines, Armand Gamache, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and Peter Morrow. Louise Penny, in her own inimitable style, takes readers on an unforgettable journey.

Louise Penny's website is

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. Minotaur Books. 2014. ISBN 9781250022066 (hardcover), 373p.

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

September Releases from Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

I'm blaming Jinx for the mistakes I made while filming this month's book chat. He was all over the place, in front of the camera, up and down, in my lap. So, the book chat isn't quite as smooth as I would like, but there's a lovable cat featured.

Here are the 13 cozy mysteries released in September.

Death is Like a Box of Chocolates - Kathy Aarons (1st Chocolate Covered Mystery)
The Wolfe Widow - Victoria Abbott (3rd Book Collector Mystery)
The Darling Dahlias and the Texas Star - Susan Wittig Albert (4th Darling Dahlias Mystery, 1st time in paperback)
Marked Down for Murder - Josie Belle (4th Good Buy Girl Mystery)
Rebel Without a Cake - Jacklyn Brady (5th Piece of Cake Mystery)
Fat Cat at Large - Janet Cantrell (1st Fat Cat Mystery)
Killing Custer - Margaret Coel (17th Wind River Mystery, 1st time in paperback)
Murder, She Wrote: Close-Up on Murder - Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain (40th Murder: She Wrote Mystery, 1st time in paperback)
The Wedding Soup Murder - Rosie Genova (2nd Italian Kitchen Mystery)
Nightmares Can Be Murder - Mary Kennedy (1st Dream Club Mystery)
Groomed for Murder - Annie Knox (2nd Pet Boutique Mystery)
The Skeleton Takes a Bow - Leigh Perry (2nd Family Skeleton Mystery)
Murder of a Needled Knitter - Denise Swanson (17th Scumble River Mystery)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Paw and Order by Spencer Quinn

I just love Chet, the dog in the Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn. And, in the course of
the series, I've grown to respect Bernie Little, the owner of the Little Detective Agency. But, the last two books have taken place away from home, Arizona. And, with the latest one, Paw and Order, I may be giving up. "Every dog has its day", and maybe Chet's is over for me.

After finishing up a case in Louisiana, Bernie and Chet decide to take a detour to Washington, D.C. where Bernie's journalist girlfriend, Suzie Sanchez, is now working for the Washington Post. But, when Bernie meets one of Suzie's sources, and the man ends up dead, Bernie is arrested for murder. While Bernie's gone, Chet meets an unusual man with a great deal of power, enough to get Bernie released. Once he's released, though, instead of going home, Bernie and Chet are on the case, looking for a murderer.

Chet's out of his element in D.C., without his friends and familiar territory. And, the entire story seemed off, with sources and mysterious men who were unexplained until the end of the book, a few who remained unexplained, and an odd cast of characters, from a Presidential candidate to the mysterious woman next door. The funniest element was the odd bird that only Chet saw for most of the book. But, the overall plot seemed weak, and I'm not sure I completely understood what had happened and who was involved by the time I finished the book.

Perhaps I should have known the book was dragging when it took me four days to get through a three hundred page book. This time, even Chet couldn't save Paw and Order for me.

Spencer Quinn's website is

Paw and Order by Spencer Quinn. Atria. 2014. ISBN 9781476703398 (hardcover), 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Win It Before You Can Buy It Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Tasha Alexander's Behind the Shattered Glass
will go to Lynn L. from Rio Linda, CA. The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear was won by Anita Y. from Barnesville, GA. I'll put the books in the mail today.

This week, I have a fun giveaway for cozy mystery lovers. I have four autographed copies of Josie Belle's latest Good Buy Girls mystery, Marked Down for Murder. Official release date is Sept. 4, so you can win a copy before you can buy it. "Between spending Valentine's Day with her sweetheart, Sam, and shopping upcoming Presidents' Day sales with the Good Buy Girls, everything is coming up roses and bargains for Maggie Gerber. But when the mother of Maggie's nemesis comes to town, things stop looking so rosy. Summer's mom is hoping to set her spoiled daughter up with Sam, and she'll do whatever it takes to make the match happen. When Maggie heads to her romantic rival's house to put a stop to the scheming, she discovers Summer standing over a dead body - holding a weapon." As much as she'd like to see Summer get what she deserves, she doesn't deserve to go to prison for a crime she didn't commit.

If you'd like to try to win one of the four autographed copies, email me at Your subject heading should read "Win Marked Down for Murder." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, Aug. 28 at 6 p.m. CT.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Traditional Mysteries and Cozy Mysteries

A couple days ago, when I reviewed Erika Chase's Book Fair and Foul, a couple of you had questions about cozy mysteries and traditional mysteries, and particularly where Louise Penny is concerned. The discussion of her series of Inspector Armand Gamache books is wrapping up this week at If you're a fan, I hope you've checked out some of the discussions. Readers have had thoughtful, in-depth discussions of the works, ending with How the Light Gets In, as we await the release of The Long Way Home next week.

I do have some answers, and, before I finish, I'm going to quote an expert. Cozy mysteries have little violence, sexual content or abusive language. Most of the violence takes place offstage. The community is usually a small town or a closed setting. An amateur sleuth is usually the detective.

Cozy mysteries are really a subset of the traditional mystery. Cozies are gentle mysteries in which the world is generally seen as quite nice, except for the murder. Crafts, cats, hobbies, and cooking are often part of the subject of cozies. Cozies are lighthearted, and sometimes humorous, comfort reads.

On the other hand, traditional mysteries may explore dark, sometimes disturbing themes. While Louise Penny's books may be defined as traditional mysteries, they are definitely not cozy. They do involve disturbing themes, even the early books in the series. And, when I quote Enid Schantz, she mentions that traditional mysteries are not police procedurals because the emphasis is on police work. Penny's books include the police, but the procedure of step-by-step investigation is not the point of her books.

When I discussed traditional and cozy mysteries in Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (Seventh Edition), I quoted the late Enid Schantz of Rue Morgue Press, with the permission of her husband, Tom. She summarized this beautifully. "In my view all cozies are traditional mysteries but by no means all traditional mysteries are cozies. A traditional mystery may feature either a professional or an amateur detective (but not, as a rule, a private detective) but is not a police procedural where the emphasis is on police work (Ed McBain). There is a minimum of violence and often a closed setting, and usually the murderer and the victim know each other. Examples of traditional mystery writers are Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, etc. A cozy is a type of traditional mystery which is gentled down ever further, where everyone and everything is nice except the murder.

Traditional - definitely Louise Penny. Also Julia Spencer-Fleming's books. Cozy - Jenn McKinlay, Julie Hyzy, Miranda James.

I hope this helps!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, I was a branch manager searching for a children's librarian. Each candidate had to do a program for us, one suitable for children. I spent a year interviewing before Ann Minner showed up with her puppets, Chick, a small white mouse, and her beat poet orangutan. (Thank heavens for Ann!) Until Ann, I must have sat through a dozen versions of  I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (OK, I know it only seemed that way). I never wanted to hear the story again. Imagine my shock to open a package yesterday and find a picture book in it, I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel. But author Caryn Yacowitz, along with illustrator David Slonim, have created a fun, fascinating book that will capture the attention of children and adults alike.

A family shows up at Bubbe's house to celebrate Chanukah. She has a wonderful dinner for them, but the cat accidentally drops a dreidel on the table, and Bubbe swallows it, thinking it's a bagel. Perhaps it's fatal! From there, Bubbe goes through a number of holiday rituals involving oil, latkes, and even the menorah.

So far, that's just a cute Chanukah story incorporating elements of the holiday celebration, perfect for the intended audience of four to eight-year-olds. And, children will enjoy looking for the cat throughout the book. But, Yacowitz and Slonim did so much more to catch the eye of the adult reader. They turned each element of the story into a parody of a famous piece of art, from Rodin's The Thinker to Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. It's fun for adults, and can be used for art instruction for children. Since you had to see some for yourself, I photographed the back cover of the book.

I'm sure you recognize the original paintings. Slonim has an artist's note at the end of the book, showing each of the fourteen parodies, along with the title of the original work of art, artist information, and where the artwork is.

Without the artwork, Caryn Yacowitz' I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel would have been just another cute version of a familiar story, but perfect for Chanukah. With Slonim's artwork, it becomes a fun book, but also a book to discuss and share.

Caryn Yacowitz' website is

David Slonim's website is

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz & illusrated by David Slonim. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014. ISBN 9780439915304 (hardcover).

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Fair and Foul by Erika Chase

I love mysteries set in the book world, whether they're about authors, book fairs, libraries, book groups, bookstores. Erika Chase combines a few of those elements in her latest Ashton Corners Book Club mystery, Book Fair and Foul.

Molly Mathews, owner of A Novel Plot bookstore, is hosting her first book fair in Ashton Corners, Alabama. Her friends in the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society are all helping, including Lizzie Turner, the reading specialist at the elementary school. Four authors had been invited to the mystery fair, and Lizzie was a little shocked to discover that two of them seemed to be divas, complaining and competing. But, she was even more shocked to learn that the publicist who showed up unexpectedly, Ashley Dixon, was her old college roommate. And, there were good reasons the two only roomed together for one semester. Ashley was hateful to Lizzie, spreading rumors about her. And, it didn't seem any different when Ashley showed up in town, eyeing Mark Dreyfus, the chief of police and Lizzie's boyfriend. Even so, Lizzie was embarrassed to death when she yelled at Ashley in public. It made it even worse when Ashley turned up dead, with Lizzie's cell phone nearby.

With Lizzie the number one suspect, suspended from her job at school, it gives her plenty of time to look for a killer, with the help of friends in the book club. Who would want to frame Lizzie for murder?

As I said, Chase's book has many elements that I love. The chapter headings were fun, quotes taken from other mysteries, containing hints as to what each chapter was about. And, I enjoyed all the discussion of books. But, I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. Perhaps this is my own issue, since I like police procedurals as well as traditional mysteries. As a cozy mystery, the amateur sleuth should investigate and find the killer. In this case, though, Mark is an excellent police chief, carrying on a careful investigation. So, I agreed with him when he responded to Lizzie when she insisted she needed to know who he suspected. "You need to know? I need you to keep out of this investigation. We go through this every time there's a murder, Lizzie. I am the cop. You are the civilian. It's my job to solve this. It's your job to stay out of it. I can't let you get involved just because we're in a relationship. And besides all that, it's too frigging dangerous. Now will you please back off?"

She should have backed off. I'm sorry if that's an unrealistic reaction to a cozy mystery since we're supposed to suspend disbelief. I just had a hard time accepting that Lizzie wouldn't let Mark do his job when he was so good at it. I've had this argument before with a mystery author. I understand it's necessary for the sake of the mystery for the amateur sleuth to solve the case. But, sometimes, I'm just not happy with it. Just my opinion of Book Fair and Foul.

Erika Chase's website is

Book Fair and Foul by Erika Chase. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425271490 (paperback), 294p.

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman

I hope the title of Carolyn T. Dingman's debut novel, Cancel the Wedding, didn't immediately turn you off. There's nothing wrong with chick lit or the cover of this book, but neither the title nor the cover art succeed in illustrating the serious tone of this book. The publisher chose to play up "the runaway bride" aspect. I prefer to see the story as a well-written, fascinating search for family secrets. It's a mystery about one woman's past so much more than a story of a runaway bride.

At thirty-two, Olivia Hughes seems to have it all, a well-paying job in Washington, D.C., and a successful lawyer fiance. But, her father died of heart disease, her mother died almost a year earlier of cancer, and Olivia really is uncomfortable with the direction her life is taking. When Leo announces at a family dinner that he has a surprise, the date and site for their wedding is now available, Olivia panics. She, too, announces a surprise. She's ready to go to Huntley, Georgia, with her mother's ashes, to honor her wishes. What's it matter that Olivia and her older sister, Georgia, have no idea why her mother wanted her ashes scattered there? Jane Rutledge Hughes never talked about her past.

Along with her fourteen-year-old niece, Logan, Olivia sets out for Huntley, Georgia, only to discover the town is no longer there. The town had been flooded out when the TVA created a man-made lake. And, her mother's past seems to have vanished as well, although a few people remember "the Huntley Rutledges". It isn't long before Olivia finds an ally in the local newspaper owner. Elliott sees it as a local human interest story. Olivia sees it as a search for her mother's past, a mother she discovers she never really knew. And, while she's in Georgia, maybe she'll find answers to her own uncertain future.

The characters of Olivia, Logan, and Elliott are wonderful. It's soon obvious why Olivia is unsuited for life with a high-powered lawyer, with her lack of filter when she speaks, and her klutziness. It's those qualities, though, that make her likable. And, it's obvious she loved her mother, and doesn't understand why there were secrets. Even so, Olivia is determined to find why her mother wanted to return home.

Carolyn T. Dingman's first novel is a riveting story of the search for answers. She manages to make one woman's hunt spellbinding, incorporating personal elements as well as historical elements to bring to life the search and story of one town and a small group of people. I wish I could tell you more about Jane Rutledge Hughes' own story, but you'll have to uncover it step-by-step with Olivia, Logan, and Elliott. It's a puzzle, a treasure hunt through old newspaper files, library books, and people's memories. And, I found myself as moved by Jane's story as Olivia was.

Move beyond the title and the cover of this book. Yes, there is a reason the book is called Cancel the Wedding. But, as I said, Dingman's outstanding debut is about one woman's hunt for her mother's past and her own future.  It's so much more than the story of a runaway bride.

Carolyn T. Dingman's website is She's on Facebook at Carolyn Dingman, and on Twitter @CarolynTDingman.

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman. Harper. 2014. ISBN 9780062276728 (paperback), 416p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The received a copy to participate in the TLC Book Tour.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

Next month, my brown bag lunch at work will cover the topic "Peck-N-Paws", books about animals. One of the Readers' Advisors recommended The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat by Susann Fromberg Schaeffer, saying it was her favor cat book. Foudini does for cats what Chet does for dogs in Spencer Quinn's books. Foudini narrates the story of his own life. It's a charming story for all cat lovers. (And, remember this is an "autobiography" so Foudini lives. But, no promises about other beloved animals.)

Foudini is a housecat in the human world, writing his autobiography for the younger cat in the household, Grace. He tries to impart his wisdom to Grace, who doesn't know what it's like to be an outside wild cat. Foudini's mother was a stray who moved him from place to place until she found a spot for him in the laundry room of an apartment building. Then, one day, she disappeared. And, a woman finally caught him, took him to the vet's, where he was adopted by a man and a woman.

And, to his horror, this man and woman had a dog. Not, just any dog, but a big one! But, over time, the dog, Sam, became Foudini's dog, and he became Sam's cat. It was Sam who convinced Foudini he had to have names for the people, so Foudini called the woman Warm and the man Pest.

Honestly? The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat is the most charming story I've ever read about a cat. Schaeffer seems to understand a cat's soul, and so many actions will be recognizable by cat lovers. There are charming vignettes in which Foudini dreams about cat ancestors, the ancient ones who come back to advise him about everything from protecting his people to his love life. It's funny, but the book does have its tear-jerker moments as well.

A cat lover? Do yourself a favor. Find The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat at your local public library. It's a slightly older book, so you may have better luck at a library. But, you won't regret searching for it.

The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. Alfred A. Knopf. 1997. ISBN 9780679454748 (hardcover), 166p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Half in Love with Artful Death by Bill Crider

My friend, reviewer Kevin Tipple, is from Texas. Maybe that's why he appreciated Bill Crider's Sheriff Dan Rhodes mysteries long before I did. But, once I discovered them, I realized I was missing mysteries that are fun, light-hearted in tone, while cognizant of the serious nature of crime, particularly murder. Half in Love with Artful Death is all of that. And, if you've never read one of the mysteries, you can start with this one. Sheriff Rhodes and his motley crew are just waiting for you to meet them.

The sheriff of Blacklin County, Texas also provides services for the town of Clearview, so when Burt Collins wants to complain about artists in town, he shows up in the sheriff's office. Since Burt complains about everything, Sheriff Rhodes doesn't take him too seriously until he has to attend to a disturbance at the art exhibit. He finds Collins being restrained by two men, including Seepy Benton, a mathematics professor who considers himself part of the sheriff's department because of his attendance at the citizens' academy. Both men accuse Burt of vandalizing the art in the exhibit, but no one can prove it. Burt is released, and everything seems to be under control.

A sheriff's work is never done, particularly when there's a small staff. So, that night, Rhodes has to handle a robbery at the Pak-a-Sak convenience sore, donkeys on the loose on the highway, and Burt Collins' murder. In the course of the murder investigation, there is also a naked woman in some bushes, another robbery, a meth bust, the local news, and politicians. All in the day-to-day life of a Texas lawman.

At least in the day-to-day life of Sheriff Dan Rhodes. Crider's lawman is slow and steady, and he gets there, despite the "Who's on First" behavior of his dispatcher and jailer, and a few of his over-eager officers. Of course, he has what every lawman needs, an understanding wife, a couple dogs, and two do-nothing cats. And, a sense of humor.

If you enjoy funny conversations, the quirky people in a small town, and a shrewd, patient lawman, meet Sheriff Dan Rhodes. Half in Love with Artful Death is mystery with just the right tone of humor and respect for the seriousness of crime.

Bill Crider's website is

Half in Love with Artful Death by Bill Crider. Minotaur Books. 2014. ISBN 9781250039675 (hardcover), 272p.

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

Friday, August 15, 2014

Winners and an Historic England Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Karen B. of Bloomington, MN will receive Rosie Genova's Murder and Marinara. Maple Mayhem by Jessie Crockett will go to Jess D. from Harrisburg, PA. I'll mail the books today.

This week, I'm giving away two books set in England's past. The first isn't a mystery, although mystery readers will recognize Jacqueline Winspear's name. Winspear is the author of the Maisie Dobbs books. This year, she gives us a novel, The Care and Management of Lies, set just before and during the Great War. The story focuses on three young people, and what they do to survive. Kezia Marchant's friendship with Thea Brissenden suffered when Thea turned to women's suffrage and Kezia planned to marry Thea's brother, Tom, in 1914. Thea's wedding gift to Kezia, a book on household management, is a gift of scorn that Kezia will now be a farm wife. But, when Tom enlists and Thea heads to the battlefields, Kezia's responsibilities become even more serious. Filled with details of everyday life and the tragedy of war, The Care and Management of Lies is a powerful book. I have an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) to give away.

If you would prefer a mystery, you can enter to win Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily mystery, Behind the Shattered Glass. Lady Emily and her husband are at her husband's ancestral estate when a neighbor bursts through the doors and falls down dead. It seems more than a couple people had reason to want the young aristocrat dead. As Lady Emily searches for a killer, the trail takes readers into the gilded world of a British manor house and below stairs, where the servants know all the secrets.

Which book would you like to read? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Management of Lies" or "Win Behind the Shattered Glass." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end next Thursday, Aug. 21 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

A week ago on Facebook, I discussed Helene Hanff's wonderful book of letters, 84, Charing Cross Road, and a friend recommended another book. She said I definitely needed to read Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing. Hill's tastes are a little more literary than mine, but there's a shared passion for books. Since Hill lives in England, some of the titles were British, so I wasn't familiar with them, or, in some cases, even the authors. However, it's a wonderful book for discovery.

Hill was looking for a book, one that she knew was on the landing of her house. It wasn't there, but it led her to a year's adventure. She decided to spend a year reading only the books that were in the house, with the exception of academic books she would borrow from libraries, and books she received for review. It led to a year of serendipitous reading.

The chapters seem to wander through Hill's life as she wanders through her house and her books. Here's Hill as a child in the library. Did you know in a time when infectious and contagious diseases were more common, books in the children's library were fumigated and marked fumigated? Here she is on the doorstep with T.S. Eliot, or at a party with Ian Fleming. Her chapters cover everything from children's books to women's novels, poetry, pop-up books, Charles Dickens, favorite authors, Virginia Woolf, things found in her books, picture books, and diaries. She discusses classics and the authors who wrote them, the authors she knew, authors and books that have been forgotten. It's a well-rounded book covering an eclectic selection. It's obvious Hill and her husband are scholars with books covering a myriad of subjects. And, then there's that question to make every reader think. You can only have forty books for the rest of your life. What forty will you keep from your own collection?

I'm glad a friend suggested Howards End is on the Landing. Hill shares her passion for books, the actual physical paper book as well as the contents and the authors. It's a joy to read about her book collection and her life of books. And, she sums every joyful reader up with one paragraph. "Books help to form us. If you cut me open, will you find volume after volume, page after page, the contents of every one I have ever read, somehow transmuted and transformed into me?...But if the books I have read have helped to form me, then probably nobody else who ever lived has read exactly the same books, all the same books and only the same books, as me. So just as my genes and the soul within me make me uniquely me, so I am the unique sum of the books I have read. I am my literary DNA."

Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing is her fascinating exploration of her literary DNA.

Susan Hill's website is

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. Profile Books. 2009. ISBN 9781846682667 (paperback), 236p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Today is all about choices. I spent most of last evening finishing Louise Penny's How the Light Gets In for next week's online discussion at My cat, Josh, ran over to cuddle when I was crying over the book; the villagers, the bravery, the tragedy and triumph. So, I could have given you a light fluffy review of a children's book. I'm not.

Instead, I'm offering you three choices. You can join us at the discussion, even if you would prefer to lurk and read others' comments about this challenging book. You can tell us what you're reading today. Or, you can just let it slide, and move on to the next place on the web for the day, knowing you can come back here tomorrow.

I'd love to know what you're reading. I just hope you come back, as I will tomorrow, after I'm done crying over How the Light Gets In.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Recap - How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

Two weeks from today, Louise Penny's new book, The Long Way Home, will be released. It's the perfect time to remind you what happened in the last book, How the Light Gets In. This week, and next, I'm leading the online discussion of the book, so I spent time going back to reread it. I found it surprising that the review I wrote a year ago ends with the same quote I picked as my favorite of the first half of the book. I guess my feelings haven't changed. How the Light Gets In is still a remarkable book. If you'd like to join us for the book discussion, or just glance through the discussions of the nine previous books, you can check them out at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louise Penny's website is

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

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof

When I discover a book that speaks to the truth of my heart, it's a book I keep. Someday, I will want to go back, reread it, and see if it still resonates with me. Martha Woodroof's debut novel, Small Blessings, is one that brought so many moments of recognition. Her phrasing is exquisite. Her characters ring with life. It's a book that will be on my favorite list at the end of the year. And, I'm not going to be able to do it justice because a summary will not spell out the beauty of the lives in this book.

Tom Putnam, Professor of English, first met Rose Callahan at a college function held at the bookstore where she was the new assistant director. And, it came as a shock when his wife, Marjory, invited Rose to dinner. Marjory was a shy, nervous woman, "an exquisite china doll, immensely chippable" whose wild phobias about germs and obscure diseases, her pathological timidity, had dominated their lives for years. But, Rose Callahan was kind to Marjory, and smiled at Tom. "And just like that he, Thomas Marvin Putnam - lover of Shakespeare, educated at Amherst College and the University of Virginia, dysfunctionally married for twenty years - was a joyous, carefree child somersaulting down a hill, joining Alice in falling, falling, falling somewhere he had never contemplated going." And, he hoped Marjory's social invitation to Rose meant there would be change in their lives.

Oh, there's change. And, Marjory's unusual behavior is noticed by her mother. Agnes moved in with Tom and Marjory years earlier, giving up her legal practice to take care of her needy daughter. Agnes is also the one who hands Tom the letter that will also bring change. Tom learns that his brief three week affair with a poet ten years earlier has resulted in a son he never knew he had. And, Henry will be on a train to spend the next three months with his father. In moments like this, Tom can only think of dumping everything in the lap of his capable mother-in-law. Then, in one week, Tom and Agnes deal with two shocks that will change their lives forever.

Small Blessings is so much more than a novel of a small, insulated college community, or the story of change in one family. I've seen blurbs that concentrated on the charming, imperfect characters. They are all of that. Tom and Agnes, Rose, Henry, even characters with cameo appearances, but important roles, are wonderful characters. But, I saw another side of this book, the tragedy.

Small Blessings is a story of mental illness, alcoholism, and addiction, and how it affects people, both the addict and those around them. I've lived Tom Putnam's life, with a mother-in-law who suffered from mental illness, and a husband who was an addictions counselor because he himself was an alcoholic, and suffered from depression. Woodroof is understanding in pointing out that life is always off-balance for the people living with the mentally ill person or the addict. We become "skilled at coping, not at living". And, Tom realized over the years that "One human being, with the best will and intentions in the world, cannot fix what is wrong with someone else." If Tom enjoyed an evening away from Marjory, she worried, and paid the price. "As long as he lived with her, her price was his price, and an evening of fun simply wasn't worth it."

Yes, I agree with the blurbs and the reviews that say Small Blessings is an optimistic story and a story of hope. But, it's all of that because people reach out to get past the loneliness, past the pain, and the tragedy of lives that are stuck. I loved Martha Woodroof's debut novel. Small Blessings is a wonderful story of living people. And, it's joyful, and beautiful, and hopeful because the author speaks the truth.

Martha Woodroof's website is

Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof. St. Martin's Press. 2014. ISBN 9781250040527 (hardcover) 310p.

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. collaborated on a fascinating look into the story of a little known family and the last surviving daughter of a copper king. Empty Mansions is the story of Huguette Clark, who died at 104, a wealthy heiress whose relatives didn't even know she was still alive. The subtitle is perfect; "The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune".

Huguette Clark's father, W.A. Clark, was a self-made man, an entrepreneur who made his fortune in the west, beginning as a merchant, moving into copper mines, and ending with anything that made a profit. He was a railroad baron, owned the lots that became downtown Las Vegas, built a railroad to what was, at the time, the secondary city in California, Los Angeles. His story, leading to hers in the book, is absolutely fascinating. After his first wife died, he remarried at the age of 62. His wife, Anna, was 23 at the time, shocking the children from his first marriage. However, the children eventually seemed to accept the second marriage, and the two daughters from that marriage. Huguette was the youngest, and, when her father died, she inherited one-fifth of his estate. It was estimated that she inherited $100 to $250 million.

But, as interesting as W.A. Clark was, the book is about Huguette, and her long life after all of her immediate family was gone. The book indicates she was a shrewd businesswoman, an artist, who divorced her husband, but remained friends with him. When she befriended someone, she remained a friend for life. However, she moved into a hospital room when she was in her eighties, letting her mansions remain empty, although she refused to sell them. And, very few people even knew the heiress to one of America's great fortunes was still alive, including the many relatives who came out of the woodwork to contest her will when she died.

The authors indicate that Huguette lived the life she wanted to life, reclusive, not seeing many people, but writing to many, and supporting friends. Even so, I found the book to be sad. She did chose to be a recluse, but supported the arts, had her music, her painting. She was intelligent and knowledgeable about her passions, her dolls, her dollhouses that had to be perfect. It just struck me as a sad life, with so much money, and a refusal to leave or see many people. And, it seemed that everything she really had, her artwork and jewelry, was stolen from her, with money eaten up in court battles. She seemed to become a misunderstood figure of ridicule by those who never knew her.

Empty Mansions is a compelling story, a story most of us can never really understand, of unimaginable wealth, and isolation.

The website is www.emptymansionsbook.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. Ballantine Books. 2013. ISBN 9780345534521 (hardcover), 456p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, August 09, 2014

What Are You Reading?

I did some intense reading this week, preparing to lead the online discussion for Louise Penny's ninth book, How the Light Gets In. So, my other reading was nonexistent the last couple nights. Now, I'm reading Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. It's the selection for Monday night's book club. If I'm running a little behind, or sounding a little breathless as I try to keep up this week, I am.

So, while I'm playing catch-up, what are you reading this weekend? I'd love to know!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Winners and a Cozy Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Nevada Barr's Destroyer Angel is heading to Sandy O. from Milford, OH. B.J. S. of Monroe, Washington will receive Kate Rhodes' A Killing of Angels. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

It's time to give away some recent cozy mysteries about food. Murder and Marinara is the first Italian Kitchen mystery by Rosie Genova. Hit whodunit writer Victoria Rienzi is getting back to her roots by working at her family's Italian restaurant at the Jersey shore. But, the town is up in arms over plans to film a new reality TV show, and when the pushy producer eats his last meal at Casa Lido, Victoria is determined to find the killer. But, there are "as many suspects as tomatoes in her nonna's garden."

If you're not interested in Italian cooking and the Jersey shore, how about maple syrup, New Hampshire and murder? Maple Mayhem by Jessie Crockett features Dani, a fourth-generation syrup maker. She's trying to put together a co-op of maple syrup producers, but someone seems determined to sabotage the effort. Everyone pinpoints Frank Lemieux as the suspect, until Frank is murdered. Now, Dani needs to save her co-op and find a killer.

Which mystery 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 Murder and Marinara" or "Win Maple Mayhem". Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end next Thursday, August 14 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Bibliomysteries, ed. by Otto Penzler

Otto Penzler, founder of the Mysterious Press and New York City's Mysterious Bookshop, has been 
collecting first editions of mysteries for over forty years. His collection of more than 50,000 volumes, and his vast knowledge of the mystery field, has helped in the compilation of the first annotated bibliography devoted to bibliomysteries. Bibliomysteries includes first editions of mystery fiction set in the world of books, 1849-2000.

Admittedly, this is not a book for the casual mystery reader. Most of us are not looking for the first editions of mysteries. But, it's a beautiful, fascinating book. "In order to qualify as a bibliomystery, a book, library, bookshop, book collector, manuscript, or book collection must be a significant element of a novel or short story." It's a comprehensive listing, in alphabetical order by author.

Remember, though, that it's a listing of bibliomysteries, so not every book by an author will be listed, unless they all take place in the world of books. For instance, there are only two Robert B. Parker titles, The Godwulf Manuscript and Looking for Rachel Wallace. One involves the search for a priceless stolen illuminated manuscript. The other involves the protection of an author as she attends book and publishing-related events. Both titles, in their American and British editions are included.

Penzler has also included more than 130 full-color photographs of rare dust jackets or covers, along with ones that he found interesting. For someone who loves mysteries about books, the entire book is interesting. The introduction explains the decisions made for exclusion or inclusion of books, as well as the reason that the book includes books only up to 2000. (Later books are easy to find, and Penzler doesn't view them as very interesting bibliographically.)

Bibliomysteries is truly a book for the collector, but those who love mysteries dealing with the book world will find it fascinating.

Bibliomysteries, ed. by Otto Penzler. The Mysterious Bookshop. 2014. ISBN 9781613160664 (hardcover), 149p.

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

Note: The fall edition of Janet Rudolph's Mystery Readers Journal will be devoted to Bibliomysteries. Mystery Readers Journal is a quarterly thematic mystery Journal. Each issue contains articles, reviews, and author essays on a specific theme, as well as special columns and other mystery related material. Journals run an average of 80 pages. So, if you're interested in more recent mysteries set in the world of books, watch for it!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Farley Moran

Terrie Farley Moran strikes just the right note with her debut mystery, Well Read, Then Dead. Set in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, the author evokes all the history, beauty and charm of southwest Florida with her knowledge of the area, her research, and her use of local color. The tourist area with its secrets and past comes alive on her pages.

When best friends Sassy Cabot and Bridget "Bridgy" Mayfield left Connecticut behind, they moved to Florida, where they combined their dreams, opening a bookstore and cafe, Read 'Em and Eat. The customers can enjoy meals with book-related names, browse the bookstore, and participate in a book club or two. The regular book group members, though, are locals such as Augusta Maddox, a woman with a large personality and voice, and her shy cousin, Delia Batson. And, all of Miss Augusta's friends turn to Sassy when Delia is found dead, murdered in her own house. Maybe the new lieutenant with the sheriff's department is smart as well as handsome, but Miss Augusta demands some answers, and wants help from Sassy. Where's Miss Delia's missing locket? Where's her missing cat? And, did someone kill Delia because they thought there was treasure near the island she owned in the Ten Thousand Islands? A few too many people think Sassy is snooping, and it isn't long before she's warned to mind her own business, or else.

When an author chooses to set a book in an actual location, a reader should feel as if they are actually there. It's one thing if the setting is imaginary. But, I took issue before when an author's mystery felt as if it could have been set in any island community. Terrie Farley Moran doesn't make that mistake. She capitalizes on the rich history of southwest Florida, stories of islands, treasures, pristine locations. She celebrates the local characters, long-time residents with names that resonate in the area, names such as Smallwood. All of the local color creates a vivid backdrop for this debut mystery.

There are a few weaknesses. At times, Bridgy comes across as pushy, and seems an unlikely best friend. Sassy has a few of the flaws I dislike. She doesn't always tell the police what she knows, and, she makes one of those "Too Stupid To Live" mistakes, and even realizes it at the time. And, I felt as if the motive for murder was obvious. But, some of the characters are quirky and interesting; Bridgy's Aunt Ophie who shows up to help in a pinch, Miss Augusta, Skully, the reporter Cady. And, of course, it's always fun to read a mystery set in the world of books, with the discussion of titles.

Terrie Farley Moran's first mystery novel, Well Read, Then Dead, is entertaining. The rich background sets the scene for this debut, and beckons readers to enter a world with all kinds of possibilities for crime. What better location than a setting already rich with stories of treasures, piracy and murder, and, now, a location for tourists, treasure-seekers, and fortune hunters? Welcome to southwest Florida and Read 'Em and Eat.

Terrie Farley Moran's website is

Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Farley Moran. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425270288 (paperback), 295p.

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

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

City of Ghosts by Kelli Stanley

City of Ghosts is the perfect title for Kelli Stanley's latest Miranda Corbie mystery. The private
investigator is haunted by her past, scarred by death and violence, by the victims she's known and the losses in her life. And, the second main character in this book, the city of San Francisco itself, is haunted by its own past, the violence, the death and betrayal, the victims, the secrets in its past. It's a kindred spirit to Miranda, who recognizes it as home.

In 1940, Miranda is searching for answers to her own past. When she receives a card from the mother she never knew, Catherine Corbie, indicating she's in England as the country prepares for war, she hunts for answers, and a way to reach her mother. And, a few jobs will help her pay her way to England, if she can get there on a ship that the Nazis won't torpedo. There's that one retrieving a jade necklace stolen by a socialite's drug-addicted son. And, when she finishes that, there's a job with no background, a well-paying job for a secretive State Department. Check out a chemistry professor who seems very interested in art, Mexico, and Nazis. It's a dangerous world for anyone, but a beautiful woman may be able infiltrate that world. Oh, and there might be a ticket to England in the bargain. She's warned not to trust anyone. But, that didn't prepare her for a trail of murder, including murder of a client and a friend. It didn't prepare her to be the number one suspect, with her name blared across the tabloids.

Once again, Kelli Stanley brings historic San Francisco to life in all its beauty and grit. Every detail is pitch-perfect in this atmospheric novel; the pre-war atmosphere, the tension, the crime. Stanley beautifully captures the uneasiness in the country, the feeling of unrest.  And, then she gives us Miranda Corbie, a character as gritty as the city itself, with a disreputable past to match. And, both the city and Miranda have memories that spur them on. 

Miranda can be dogged, unforgiving, and determined when it comes to finding answers. And, sometimes those memories hurt, forcing her to push away those who love her. Her determination, her need to find answers for the victims she knows is summarized beautifully. "Catherine Corbie would have to wait, but she'd waited almost thirty years already. Two clients, two murders, one of a friend. A job for the government mixing spies and art, Nazis and Mexico, chemistry and killers. She'd be alone...but Miranda was used to that."

If you want to understand pre-war America, the looting of Europe's art treasures, San Francisco's history, or the story of a strong, gritty woman, a woman with a past, and a city with a past, Kelli Stanley's City of Ghosts is a must-read.

Kelli Stanley lives in the city she loves, San Francisco, and shares her inspiration and sources at

City of Ghosts by Kelli Stanley. Minotaur Books. 2014. ISBN 9781250006745 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Monday, August 04, 2014

If Catfish Had Nine Lives by Paige Shelton

I'm addicted to Paige Shelton's Country Cooking School mysteries. It's not the cooking school or the recipes that attract me. It's the unusual history of the Old West outlaw town of Broken Rope, Missouri, and the stories of all the ghosts. Each ghost that shows up, appearing to Betts Winston and her grandmother, Missouri Anna (Gram), has an unusual story, a mystery that Betts and Gram need to solve before the ghost can move on. This time, in If Catfish Had Nine Lives, it's a story of the Pony Express.

Broken Rope is hosting a cowboy poetry convention, and Gram and Betts are teaching outdoor cooking classes - frying catfish over a campfire, and Dutch oven techniques. But, Betts is a little distracted. Her favorite ghost of a cowboy, Jerome, has shown up, saying he's there to protect her. Before they can even discuss that, events start to tumble out of control. An actor is shot dead in what was supposed to be the skit of a gunfight, and Betts' brother, Teddy, is found beaten up, with no memory of what happened or who was involved. Betts fears her brother might been had a fight with the dead actor, after she hears the two went into the woods together looking for firewood.

Betts trusts the locals, but doesn't know which of the tourists and cowboys might have been involved in the shooting and Teddy's beating. She's checking it out because she fears for her brother. But, she has other matters to worry about, too. Joe, the ghost of a Pony Express rider, has shown up again, someone Gram has always helped. Now, the two turn to Betts, who can actually touch and deal with ghosts better than her grandmother. Joe has three more letters to deliver. When Joe died, letters were left undelivered. Now, Gram, Betts and Joe must find a way to pass them on to the descendants of the original recipients. How does this tie in with one of the tourists who claims she's related to a Pony Express rider with local connections? Once again, Betts is caught up in crimes of the present and ghosts of the past.

Shelton always does an excellent job with the mystery in these books. Her characters are always interesting, from Betts and Gram, to Betts' best friend and local historian, Jake. Relationships are important in these books, family relationships, friendships, and the occasional case of enmity. And, the ghosts truly come to life on the pages, with all their mystique and past histories. Shelton beautifully incorporates the ghosts' stories into the history of Broken Rope.

Ghosts, history of the Old West, modern crime, and cooking are blended together skillfully in Paige Shelton's Country Cooking School mysteries. If Catfish Had Nine Lives adds a few more fascinating ghostly legends to the annals of Broken Rope's history.

Paige Shelton's website is

If Catfish Had Nine Lives by Paige Shelton. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425269282 (paperback), 296p.

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

Sunday, August 03, 2014

I've never done a commercial on my blog before, and I won't make a practice of it. But, has two things going for it. First, it has wonderful products for readers. And, the philanthropy sold me, and I agreed to talk about the site. In a blog in The Huffington Post, Brad Wirz, founder of GoneReading, talks about the company, the philanthropy that gives all the after-tax profits to four organizations that spread "the magic of reading". I hope you take the time to click on The Huffington Post link above, and reading about it.

And, I want to make it perfectly clear that Brad did send me three products so I could see the quality of the merchandise at GoneReading. There are hundreds of items for booklovers on the site. I will definitely use The Reading Woman notecards. (If you've ever won one of my giveaways, you know I send handwritten notes.) Here's the description. 

The Reading Woman series features useful products for the modern woman, each adorned with classic paintings of women reading. This beautiful notecard set of 20 cards features the works of Albert Pisa, George Dunlop Leslie, Leonid and Olga Tikhomirov and Carl Olof Larsson. 

And, if you're like me, and keep track of the books you've read, "Books I've Read: A Bibliphile's Journal" is perfect. It's not only attractive, but there's plenty of room for summarizing the books. From the website, "This simple, beautifully illustrated reading journal will empower you to record and preserve your bookish thoughts for years to come.  Each entry provides you with two full pages of lined space.  Intermittent artwork – based on Deborah Needleman’s book The Perfectly Imperfect Home – adds character and inspiration for your writing pleasure. Includes lists of award-winning books from the past, including Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker Prize, National Book Award winners and many more." (OK, I do admit I don't read literary books, so the award winner pages are only for professional interest for me.)

There are also gifts related to a few authors; Edgar Allan Poe gifts, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Mark Twain. I have the Edgar Allan Poe inspired scented candle in a travel tin. "This travel candle features a unique blend of scents inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, the 19th century writer from the Romantic Movement. Beautifully packaged in a foil-stamped tin, this makes the perfect gift for readers of fine literature. Artfully blended with soy wax, scented in Cardamom, Absinthe, & Sandalwood, poured in a 3.5 oz. travel tin. Each travel candle includes two wicks."

Check out the picture. You can see the quality of the gifts. And, that's why Brad Wirz sent me a couple items. I'm a book lover who hates to shop. But, I wouldn't write about gifts for book lovers if I didn't know they were worth sharing with you. And, then, there's that philanthropy. A reader always wants to share the love of reading, and you can do that through

FTC Full Disclosure - Brad Wirz sent me the three items so I could see the variety and quality if I wanted to blog about them.