Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Off Kilter by Hannah Reed

Everyone knows how much I enjoy discovering the first in a new series. As the author of the Queen
Bee mysteries, Hannah Reed isn't a novice. But, she launches a wonderful new series set in the Scottish Highlands with Off Kilter. A gorgeous setting, a determined amateur sleuth who isn't stupid, a hint of romance. Reed knows her way to a winning mystery.

After Eden Elliott survived her personal year from hell, her best friend and successful romance author Ami Pederson handed her a round-trip ticket to Scotland with the return in six months. Ami told her to fly, experience the setting of Eden's own proposed romance novel and the land of her father's ancestors. And, on the flight to her new adventure, Eden makes a friend, Vicki MacBride, who's also on her way to the small village of Glenkillen. Vicki's returning to her childhood home after inheriting her father's estate. But, both women will have an unexpected welcome to the Scottish Highlands.

Eden's visit starts with the horror of her rental car, and she's kicking it in frustration when handsome Leith Cameron rescues her and invites her to the funeral for James MacBride. Vicki doesn't feel welcome because her half sister inherited nothing, although she and her husband ran the estate. And, then Eden and Vicki stumble across a body. Eden, who went to Scotland to relax and write, is stunned. "I'd barely arrived and here I was, stumbling across a murder victim, getting involved with the local police, and ordered in no uncertain terms to remain in Glenkillen. How had this happened?"

Hannah Reed's Off Kilter impresses me for a number of reasons. Eden is a mature woman, thirty-eight, whose actions in the course of this book are not stupid. She turns information over to the police, calls them, and does not make stupid moves. Then, there's the murder victim, a local man who will be missed by everyone. The victim is not forgotten in the course of the investigation. The police officer in charge of the investigation, Inspector Kevin Jamieson, is a shrewd, methodical detective, not a buffoon. There are hints of a romance with a sexy Scot, a kind man with a sense of humor. And, of course, there's that gorgeous setting, used to full effect, even in the climatic scene.

Off Kilter provides an escape into an exotic location with an admirable amateur sleuth. After reading Hannah Read's outstanding mystery, you'll want to escape to the Scottish Highlands.

Hannah Reed's website is www.hannahreedbooks.com

Off Kilter by Hannah Reed. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425265826 (paperback), 295p.

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Death is Like a Box of Chocolates by Kathy Aarons

If Kathy Aarons' debut mystery, Death is Like a Box of Chocolates, is any indication, cozy mystery readers are in for a delectable series. Aarons already appears to be a pro at creating likable sleuths, well-developed characters, and a surprise, but logical villain. Isn't that what we're all looking for with our mysteries?

Michelle Serrano is perfectly happy operating a combined bookstore and chocolate shop with her best friend, Erica. Michelle is the chocolatier for Chocolates and Chapters, while Erica runs the bookstore, and their lives. It's Erica, along with the mayor, who has everyone in town actively volunteering for the Memorial Day weekend Arts Festival. And, Michelle had only wanted to hold a Great Fudge Cook-off. Now, it's a full-blown event with the star of Grand Chef Network as a possible guest judge. But, everything is temporarily on hold when Michelle finds the body of one of the town's professional photographers. Of course everything is on hold. Denise appeared to be poisoned by eating some of Michelle's chocolates. So, guess who's on the top of the suspect list. Michelle is desolate when she can't get into her shop, anticipating the destruction of all of her hard work. For her, "Chocolate was food and family and friends." Is it any wonder that Michelle and Erica team up to ask a few questions and create a project plan for a murder investigation?

Aarons' cast of characters is fascinating. Michelle is in love with her chocolate, following rebellious teen years after her parents died. Her older brother, Leo, had raised her, then enlisted. He's now back from Afghanistan, a disabled veteran suffering from depression. There's the brilliant Erica, along with her hot brother, Ben, the "Bean" that Michelle always had a crush on. It's a well-developed cast of characters, from Michelle's assistants to the other store owners in town. And, of course, there's Michelle's life-long enemy, now the owner and editor of the local newspaper.

When Michelle looks at her friendship with Erica, realizing how "entrenched we were in each other's lives", she actually sums up the world of cozy mysteries. Amateur sleuths like Michelle and Erica fall into investigations because they are entrenched in the lives of their small towns. And, those investigations often uncover unpleasant secrets about friends and neighbors.  Aarons' Death is Like a Box of Chocolates offers a combination chocolate shop/bookstore (heaven, anyone?) in West Riverdale, Maryland, the newest setting for crime and friendship in a small town. Kathy Aarons' debut is a sweet treat, indeed.

Kathy Aarons' website is www.kathyaarons.com

Death is Like a Box of Chocolates by Kathy Aarons. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425267233 (paperback), 294p.

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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Picks and Piles

Today, I have choices for you. First, I wanted to share a website and product for booklovers. It's called Inmybook.com. It's "a greeting card sold complete with a red mailing envelope. The entire front of the card is perforated changing the product into a bookmark.... Wide enough for a short note, they fit comfortably inside a paperback."

There are eighteen different cards to pick from, beginning with the greeting "in my book..." and conclude with lines such as "you're novel", "you're top shelf." Robin K. Blum, creator of the company, said the double-entendres are only one more example of the cards serving double duty.

These are high-quality cards, just perfect to send to another book lover, or keep for yourself.

Check them out at Inmybook.com, or here.

And, I have three of them to give away. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should say, "Win Inmybook." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. and Canada will be accepted this time. And, I'll end the contest on Thursday, Oct. 2 at 6 p.m. CT.

If you don't want to order bookmarks, you might want to talk about your TBR pile (although, I need a stack of bookmarks to go in the books in my TBR pile). What are you reading right now? What's sitting beside your regular reading spot?

I admit I read multiple books at a time, and then I take whatever book I'm closest to finishing to work with me to read at lunch. It's Sunday, so I'm reading six of them, but I'll be finishing Kathy Aarons' Death is Like a Box of Chocolates today. My sister gave it high marks. I'm also reading Michael Sloan's The Equalizer. I loved the television show. I'm thinking about seeing the movie next weekend. I just received Betty Webb's latest Lena Jones mystery, Desert Rage. I've barely started it. I have Garth Stein's A Sudden Light. Diane Chamberlain's The Silent Sister looks intriguing. And, I have Frances Mayes' memoir Under Magnolia. She's appearing at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in a couple weeks.

So, take your pick. You can enter the contest. You can share what you're reading. Or you can do both! Lazy Sundays are for hitting that TBR pile in my opinion. Tell us what you're reading today.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson

If it seems too early to be reviewing Christmas books, I agree. But, they're already being released, and this one was even in the library. But, I'd be perfectly happy to always read the Christmas books in the eighty degree weather we had this week. And, I'm always happy to read sweet books about cats. Melody Carlson's 2014 holiday book, The Christmas Cat, is sweet and hopeful, just what Christmas books are supposed to be.

At thirty-four, Garrison Brown is struggling. He's returned from nine years in Uganda, where he worked as a missionary, digging wells. He returned with malaria, few job prospects, and no place to live, except with a childhood friend. And, then he's knocked off his feet again when he learns his beloved grandmother died. She had raised him after his parents died when he was twelve, and he was the first to admit he was a troubled, angry young man. But, he feels guilty because he didn't visit much after he returned to the states. He was allergic to the cats she adopted after he left home.

When he meets with his grandmother's attorney, Garrison has two surprises. His grandmother left him her house, and her six cats. But, the cats came with stipulations. He's to find them good homes in the neighborhood, check on them, and, once he's sure the cats are happy, the people who gave them good homes will receive handsome checks. The first cat is easy, placed with Gram's good friend. And, then one breaks his heart when a beautiful young woman can't have him because she hasn't lived in the neighborhood long enough. Once Garrison meets Cara, he realizes he's lonelier than he thought. And, when he has to turn down her request for a cat, he might turn down a chance for happiness as well.

Every year I say the same thing. How much can you say about a Christmas story? They should be hopeful, poignant, sometimes sweet, with a satisfying ending. Melody Carlson's The Christmas Cat will satisfy every cat lover's demands for a satisfying holiday story.

Melody Carlson's website is www.melodycarlson.com

The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson. Revell. 2014. ISBN 9780800719661 (hardcover), 169p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, September 26, 2014

Wouldn't It Be Deadly by D.E. Ireland

D.E. Ireland must have written the first Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins mystery just for me. I'm a big fan of My Fair Lady. Ireland brings all the charm, eccentricities, personalities and humor of that musical to this book. Wouldn't It Be Deadly is a fun follow-up to the movie. And, I'm sure readers will picture Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison searching London for a killer.

Wouldn't It Be Deadly picks up two months after Eliza moved out of Professor Higgins' house, moving in with his mother. To the professor's horror, Eliza is now working as a language teacher, employed by that phony, Higgins' rival Emil Nepommuck. And, everyone is London seems to know that the professor was angry at Nepommuck's claim to have taught Eliza. In fact, the day after Nepommuck's wealthy patron announced her engagement to him, Professor Higgins revealed the truth about him in the newspaper. When Eliza finds her employer dead, stabbed just as Higgins had threatened, Henry Higgins moves to the top of the suspect list.

There may have been a number of people to want Emil Nepommuck dead, but only one person had broadcasted his scorn and dislike of the man, Professor Henry Higgins. And, the professor refuses to provide any alibi, other than he was wandering around London all day, listening to people talk. He may not have been guilty of the second murder, but that killer even thanks the professor for killing Nepommuck. Despite the professor's reluctance, Eliza drags him into the search for the real killer. He might not do much to get himself out of trouble, but Eliza Doolittle knows Professor Henry Higgins is not a killer.

Do you want to know what happened to Eliza Doolittle, Professor Henry Higgins, Freddy, Colonel Pickering? D.E. Ireland brings them all back to life in this captivating mystery. It's "so loverly sittin' abso-bloomin'-lutely still" reading Wouldn't It Be Deadly.

D.E. Ireland's website is www.deireland.com

Wouldn't It Be Deadly by D.E. Ireland. Minotaur Books. 2014. ISBN 9781250049353 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Congratulations to the winners of the last couple contests. The copies of G.M. Malliet's A Demon Summer will be sent to Linda N. from Nepeau, Ontario, Canada, Gail S. of Seguin, TX, Cheryl S. of Fort Pierre, SD, Doris Ann N. of Fostoria, OH, and Kathy M. from Richmond, VA. And, the copy of K.B. Laugheed's The Spirit Keeper will go to Kimberly W. of Springdale, AR. I'll mail it tomorrow.

This week's contest is posted at the end of the recap of Philip Gulley's visit, if you missed it. I'm giving away two autographed copies of A Place Called Hope. Details on that blog post.

Recap - Philip Gulley at the Library

Philip Gulley, author of the Harmony books, and the new novel, A Place Called Hope, was absolutely charming. I didn't even get a chance to introduce him at the library the other night because he started talking to people. I did tell him that I brought him a pie because I knew about the pie committee in A Place Called Hope. And, he joked that he could see it came in a box, and he knew I had made it, and just used that box.

He started in talking about his new book, and it felt as if he was talking about a friend. He mentioned the Harmony books, saying he had left Sam Gardner (the Quaker minister in the books) to write three books about theology, but he crossed paths with Sam one day, and when he saw Sam, he wanted to catch up. Sam's boys were going off to college, and Sam's wife, Barbara, wasn't taking that well at all.

Gulley said he was talking to a Southern Baptist minister friend one day. They had gone to seminary together. and, he told Philip he had performed a same gender marriage, and it had been an accident. But, he wouldn't tell him how it happened.

Gulley wanted to move Sam from Harmony. He was tired of writing about Dale Henshaw. He even tried to get rid of him, but couldn't kill him off. As a Quaker, he's a pacifist. So, he gave Dale a massive heart attack, and a heart transplant. His heart came from a Unitarian Universalist, but it didn't change Dale. It was time to move Sam on. And, since we'd last read about Harmony, a Unitarian Universalist church had moved into Harmony. So, he decided that Sam would perform an accidental marriage.

The laughter was wonderful to hear when Philip read the chapter in which Sam presided at a ceremony for a same gender couple. He said, Miriam Hodge, the voice of reason on the board was out of town, so Sam was quickly fired. And, that's all he could say because he's written two books since, and he forgot what else was in A Place Called Hope.

He offered to take questions, and his answers to those were as delightful as his writing. He remains a storyteller when he answers questions. When asked if he knew Paul Harvey, he said he had played a critical role in him getting published. And, there's talk about bring back "The Rest of the Story" on ABC News.

When someone mentioned a house in the town where Philip grew up, he told a story about raking leaves there. He raked all day, and then the woman gave him a nickel. He said he didn't offer to rake leaves there again.

One question was about the two books he's written since A Place Called Hope. One is a theology book, and the other is the next Hope novel. The nonfiction book, The Awakened Soul, is based on Abraham Maslow's self-actualized people. Everyone has peak experiences when they feel connected to God and one another. He said all of his books are still in print.

When told he captures the essence of church boards, he responded that we were looking at a man who sat through thirty years of meetings. He's been at his current Meeting for sixteen years, and when they asked him what he wanted to come there, he said he didn't want to go to board meetings. So, it's in his contract that he only has to go to one meeting a month. They can pick which meeting he attends, but he only has to go to one.

Perhaps the only message he gave in his program was that in the next few years we need to figure out how to teach people to be gracious, or we'll be in a world of hurt.

Asked about his writing, he said he writes every morning, Monday through Thursday. Fiction is a lot easier to write. It pretty much writes itself. The theology is different because it's nuanced. It's a lot more work. After writing three theology books, he needed to rest and go back to fiction.

Asked when he started writing, Gulley said he started writing his first book in 1994. He was pastoring a small Quaker meeting in Indianapolis. There were only twelve people. They told him they thought they needed to grow, and he agreed. He asked how should we go about doing that, and they answered that they needed a newsletter. And, when asked who should write it, they said he should. He had never been comfortable writing, so he took a ministry of writing course. He wrote an essay that he didn't think was very good, and discussed it with the instructor. That essay became part of his first book, Front Porch Tales. He said he didn't think it was good because his sentences were not always complete sentences. The instructor said, so? "Writing is about conveying a message." He felt liberated.

And, then one week Paul Harvey's son was at the meetinghouse, and signed the guest registry. Philip said he just got lucky. Because he signed the registry, they sent him a newsletter. Paul Harvey was visiting his son, saw it, and read a five minute essay on the air. The next day, Gulley received a call from a publisher. He thought it was a joke, and hung up on him. So, when asked, he says it's easy to get published. You write a newsletter, have Paul Harvey's son receive a copy, get it read on the radio, and then you'll get published.

He did say he started out typing his manuscripts, but the publisher sent him a computer and had someone teach him to use it, so he writes with a computer now.

Philip Gulley entertained us with the entire program. He told us it's a funny thing about essays and sermons. You can never tell what will speak to people. That original essay he didn't like? He thinks it was about lawnmowers. And, you can work hard on a sermon, think it's wonderful, and no one comments. But, the one you just sort of throw out there is the one that will move people.

Philip Gulley's website is www.philipgulley.com

A Place Called Hope by Philip Gulley. Center Street. 2014. ISBN 9781455519804 (hardcover), 256p.

I bought two copies of A Place Called Hope and had them autographed, so those are my giveaways this week. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read "Win A Place Called Hope." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Oct. 2 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

The only thing as enjoyable as reading a book by a favorite author is discovering a debut author who writes beautifully. Heather Webb's historical novel Becoming Josephine brings a woman to life, the one we know of as Josephine Bonaparte. She had a fascinating life long before she met Napoleon Bonaparte. In this novel, we watch Rose Tascher grow into a beloved Empress.

Rose Tascher grew up in Martinique. Watching her father run around on her mother, sleeping with slaves, hookers, and mistresses, Rose was determined to marry for love. Her entire life she looked for love and security. She was thrilled to be sent to France to marry Alexandre de Beauharnais, only to find out her new husband's affairs resembled her father's. But, she did have two children she loved, and then she was legally separated from her husband.

Becoming Josephine is a story of revolution and survival. Rose de Beauharnais survived a slave revolt in Martinique and the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, when she was imprisoned. But, time after time, she turned her friendships and romances into survival. And, when she meets a shabby looking general named Napoleon Bonaparte, she may have finally found love and the future that a voodoo priestess once predicted.

Heather Webb's debut historical novel is a beautiful introduction to a fascinating woman. Josephine is usually defined in relationship to Napoleon Bonaparte, but Webb brings her to life as a woman long before she met Napoleon. And, she introduces her as a charming, intelligent woman searching for safety for herself and her children. Webb's characters live on the pages.

Becoming Josephine is a fascinating reintroduction to a woman we only think we know from the pages of history. It's an outstanding debut.

Heather Webb's website is www.heatherwebb.net

Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb. Plume. 2014. ISBN 9780142180655 (paperback), 310p.

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie

Deborah Crombie's books always remind me why police procedurals are my favorite sub-genre of mysteries. To Dwell in Darkness, her latest superb novel, unites the agony of discovery, the repetitive nature of police work, the excellent instincts of hardworking officers, and the family life and friendships that tie this series together. It's a riveting entry in the long-running series featuring Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James.

Kincaid has never really told Gemma that he suspects her promotion was to keep him quiet. And, now he's been banished from his Scotland Yard position to an area major-incident team based in Holborn, He's angry and displeased with his demotion, but, he's in the right spot when all hell breaks loose, and his friends need help.

Musicians Andy Monahan and Poppy Jones are opening a music festival at historic St. Pancras International Station. Since she's dating Andy, Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot is on the scene when a man goes up in flames, and other people are injured. Along with other witnesses, she reports seeing a group of protesters just before he man caught fire. Kincaid's team works with Counter Terrorism, until they can determine if the victim meant to incinerate only himself, or if his death was part of a bombing that went wrong. With the help of his former sergeant, along with Melody and Gemma, Kincaid uncovers layers of lies. And, he begins to wonder if his transfer was also part of layers of deception.

Crombie keeps this series fresh by alternating the focus of the books; sometimes Kincaid's cases are the primary storyline; other times the focus is on Gemma's. As police officers, they deal with complicated cases, discussing them with each other, looking for a different angle. Yet, they are both working parents who still have to handle situations at home, from illness to new kittens. And, this time, Kincaid's case leads dangerously close to home.

Like the best police procedurals, cases may be solved after a great deal of work, but there are remnants left over for the next book. Arrests are made, but some deaths and problems remain unresolved. Characters and storylines continue from book to book, but a new reader can easily pick up the threads. In the case of To Dwell in Darkness, Crombie leaves the reader and Duncan Kincaid with questions. Those questions, though, are perfect hooks to leave the reader wanting more of Kincaid and James.

Superb. I used the word earlier. To Dwell in Darkness was one of the best books I read this year, one of the best entries in this compelling series. Crombie writes of police and crime and family, sets her books against the fascinating landscape of London, and creates her own world as beautifully as anyone writing police procedurals today.

Deborah Crombie's website is www.deborahcrombie.com

To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie. William Morrow. 2014. ISBN 9780062271600 (hardcover), 324p.

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

October's Cozy Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

What better month to feature a black cat than the October featured cozy mysteries? Jinx certainly wanted a role today. In fact, he was such a nuisance that I included Sheila Connolly's book, Picked to Die, twice because he knocked over the camera, and caused all kinds of havoc. I left that in for you to see. It's my guess that Jinx knows October is for black cats.

I hope you enjoy this month's mysteries as much as Jinx did. Here are the featured books.

One Potion in the Grave by Heather Blake - 2nd Magic Potion Mystery
Literally Murder by Ali Brandon - 4th Black Cat Bookshop Mystery
Gilt Trip by Laura Childs - 11th Scrapbooking Mystery, 1st time in paperback
Picked to Die by Sheila Connolly - 8th Orchard Mystery
Stirring the Plot by Daryl Wood Gerber - 3rd Cookbook Nook Mystery
Bless Her Dead Little Heart by Miranda James - 1st Southern Ladies Mystery
A Midwinter's Tale by Sofie Kelly - 6th  Magical Cats Mystery
The Legend of Sleep Harlow by Kylie Logan - 3rd League of Literary Ladies Mystery
Weave of Absence by Carol Ann Martin - 3rd Weaving Mystery
Off Kilter by Hannah Reed - 1st Scottish Highlands Mystery
Murder Off the Beaten Path by M.L. Rowland - 2nd Search and Rescue Mystery

Sunday, September 21, 2014

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown...Lee Mendelson

If I can already review a Christmas mystery, I can certainly review a Halloween book. The actual title is It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic by Lee Mendelson with Reminiscences by Bill Melendez. Almost five decades after the television special first aired, it's still a family favorite drawing seven million viewers. Now, executive producer Lee Mendelson joins with the original Peanuts animator Bill Melendez to tell stories about cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, and the making of the special.

Did you realize these three men created fifty prime time network specials during 38 years? And, they almost didn't happen. Despite the fact that the first two specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas and Charlie Brown's All Stars! were number one and number two in the ratings, the network still wasn't convinced. They told Mendelson they wanted a blockbuster third show, or they wouldn't pick up the option for the fourth one. But, Schulz, Mendelson and Melendez collaborated to bring us the story of Snoopy, the Flying Ace, and the Red Baron; Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football; Halloween with Charlie Brown receiving rocks when he goes trick-or-treating; and, of course, Linus and Sally sitting in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin. They are all storylines that we've grown to know and love.

But, the book is so much more. It's the story of the music for all the specials. And, it's fascinating to read about the casting of the kids who played the characters, knowing they would eventually grow out of the roles. It's a book that's filled with over 150 gorgeous illustrations, and memories for all of us who grew up watching the Charlie Brown specials.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was first shown in 1966. Generations of us have now grown up with this special. It's a treat to read the reminiscences by Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, two of the three men who created an American memory. It's a show that has become part of our culture with its message of hope and disappointment. This gorgeous treatment of a beloved television classic would be a treasure for anyone who loves Charlie Brown.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic by Lee Mendelson with Reminiscences by Bill Melendez. Dey Street. 2014. ISBN 9780062344830 (hardcover), 148p.

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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

K.B. Laugheed, Author Appearance

When K.B. Laugheed spoke at the library the other night she talked about her novel, The Spirit Keeper, and how it got caught in the current state of the publishing world. The Spirit Keeper was Laugheed's thirteenth book, but her first one published. It was originally 750 pages. Penguin loved it, but they wanted it cut in half so it could be published in two parts. Laugheed's editor wanted her to edit it in November. With Thanksgiving holidays, Laugheed was given eighteen days to make all the changes they wanted in the 750 pages. Her editor was twenty-four-years-old, and didn't understand Indian captivity novels. She almost wanted to change the Indians into vampires. She did want to include a magic amulet. Laugheed had to convince her there shouldn't be a magic amulet.

The Spirit Keeper is historically accurate. It's not a teen novel, although some bookstores and libraries have categorized it that way only because Katie O'Toole was seventeen when savages removed her from her family.  It's not a romance. It's authentic and real, not a fantasy.

Laugheed's young editor left Penguin in March. The Spirit Keeper was released in September 2013,
but with no editor, it fell through the cracks. It wasn't submitted to any of the journals for reviews. Now, the publisher doesn't want to release part two of the book. Laugheed said there are really only five major publishers, but there are lots of ways to publish books now. She said she'd rather go with a small press than self-publish. And, she really does want to publish part two because the Katie O'Toole's story isn't complete without it. She said it might be tough, but it's her life mission to get the whole book out there.

The Spirit Keeper is the first book that K.B. Laugheed sold. It's an Indian captivity narrative. In 1747, Katie, a seventeen-year-old girl, was removed from her Lancaster County, Pennsylvania home by Indians. But, the book is about the differences in perspective. Everyone has a different take on the book.

Katie's narrative starts by saying she was the thirteenth child her mother conceived. At that time, only one fifth of all children conceived lived. Women were pregnant twenty-five to thirty-five times in their life. If a child made it to age ten, they usually lived because they had survived a number of diseases. Pregnancy and children shaped every aspect of women's lives. The view of children was different then. Women didn't get attached to children because they often lost them.

The Spirit Keeper is not a true story, but it is historically accurate. It's Katie O'Toole's account. K.B. Laugheed said she was captivated by native culture when she was seventeen. She lived in that world, and was compelled to write about it. She said maybe it was ancestral guilt since her great-grandparents were the first people in the part of Indiana she's from. They moved people out.

K.B. Laugheed concluded by reminding us that she wrote twelve books before this one was published. It takes time to learn the craft of writing.

If you would like to win an autographed copy of The Spirit Keeper, email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read "Win The Spirit Keeper." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Sept. 25 t 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

K.B. Laugheed's website is www.kblaugheed.com

The Spirit Keeper by K.B. Laugheed. Plume. 2013. ISBN 9780142180334 (paperback), 341p.

Friday, September 19, 2014

G.M. Malliet's A Demon Summer - Review & Giveaway

I mentioned in the October Treasures in My Closet post that there are numerous mysteries coming out Oct. 7. In fact, one person asked me what makes Oct. 7 so special. I have no idea. But, Minotaur Books is getting a jump on the date with a "Win It Before You Can Buy It" giveaway. I have five galleys of G.M. Malliet's new Max Tudor mystery, A Demon Summer, to give away. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read "Win A Demon Summer." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. and Canada only, please. The contest will end next Thursday, Sept. 25 at 6 PM CT. The publisher will send the galleys. (I told you I had some terrific October giveaways planned.)

Saying that, A Demon Summer is not an easy book to review. I'm a big fan of G.M. Malliet's traditional mysteries. And, I love Max Tudor, the MI5 agent turned Anglican vicar. The villagers in the small English village of Nether Monkslip are charming, hardworking, idiosyncratic characters. Max's ongoing relationship with Awena Owen, the owner of Goddessspell, is fun to watch. And, it's now gone too far for Max to keep it a secret from the bishop. "Max's bishop had so far been spared the news that his most charismatic priest was in a now permanent relationship with the village's only neo-pagan."

But, Max's bishop has a job for him that takes him away from Awena and Nether Monkslip. The 15th Earl of Lislelvet was poisoned when he ate a fruitcake. He survived, but now he's pointing his finger at the nuns at Monkbury Abbey where someone gave him a gift of the homemade fruitcake. Bishop St. Stephen sends Max to investigate the nunnery for two reasons. Find out who tried to poison the Earl of Lislelvet, and investigate the financial shenanigans. There is money missing, and the Earl along with some wealthy Americans are complaining. When Max arrives, he finds an unusual group of people in retreat at the Abbey. And, a murder within a few days of Max's arrival leaves everyone as suspects, including the nuns. It's up to Max, along with his friend DCI Cotton, to find a killer, and, hopefully, save the reputation of Monkbury Abbey.

It's my commentary that gets complicated about this book, so I hope fans of the series pick up the book when it's available, or enter the giveaway, and let me know what you think. The final scene in the book was splendid, with Max back in the village. But, the first half of A Demon Summer dragged for me. Max was stuck in the Abbey, learning what each nun did. Even after finishing the book, I felt that information was unnecessary, to the extent it was written. And, unfortunately, I felt as if the book was too reminiscent of Louise Penny's story of a cloistered monastery, The Beautiful Mystery. Malliet even quotes the same poet/songwriter, Leonard Cohen, along with some of the same verses Penny uses. "Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering", and talks about "how the light gets in". She does mention that Max thought there was a book by that name. This bothers me, perhaps more than it should. But, I recently led the online discussion for How the Light Gets In, and I've read, and sometimes reread all of Penny's books.

And, I do hope everyone reads G.M. Malliet's comment on this blog. I totally understand what she is saying. I know how authors can seem to write similar books because an idea strikes them at the same time. I've written back, and told her she's welcome to do a guest post at any time. She may be too busy right now, with the release of A Demon Summer coming up. But, she's always welcome.

Malliet's Max Tudor unravels the mystery in a brilliant fashion. It's the second half of the book that is interesting, but the relationships are convoluted, to say the least. And, as I said, the final scene in the book was beautiful.

So, my recommendation for A Demon Summer? Read the book, and tell me what you thought.

G.M. Malliet's website is GMMalliet.com

A Demon Summer by G.M. Malliet. Minotaur Books. 2014. ISBN 9781250021410 (hardcover), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book so I could review it, and host a giveaway.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Congratulations to the winners of this week's contests. Three people won autographed ARCs of Carolyn Hart's Ghost Wanted. It was unusual. Over sixty people entered, and two of the winners were from the same city. The books will be going to Trude V. of Kennewick, WA, Carole O. from Sun City West, AZ, and Susan M. from Sun City West, AZ.

Kathleen M. from Fall River, MA won the finished copy of M.C. Beaton's Blood of an Englishman. The publisher will send that copy. I'll send ARCs to Mildred B. from Great Neck, NY and Lisa B. from Camino, CA. The ARCs will all go out in the mail tomorrow.

Watch for another terrific giveaway and review tomorrow.

Lucky Catch by Deborah Coonts

It's always fun to catch up with Lucky O'Toole, troubleshooter at the Babylon casino/resort hotel in Las Vegas. There will always be hijinks, troubles with Lucky's mother, Mona, a little romance, great recurring characters, and, of course, a murder or two. That's true in Deborah Coonts' latest mystery, Lucky Catch.

At the same time, so much has changed. Mona is pregnant, and running for political office. Lucky's best friend and former lover, Teddie, has returned, breaking her heart again, just when she thought she'd found peace with a new man, Jean-Charles Bouclet, a world-renowned chef. And, all of this has caused Lucky to lose her grip. Even her mother has noticed. So, when there are troubles with the Last Chef Standing competition, such as a missing truffle, Lucky doesn't take it seriously enough. But, when a food supplier is found dead in Jean-Charles' food truck, and he disappears, she starts to worry. Chefs seem to be in the line of fire for a killer, and, while the police see Jean-Charles as a suspect, Lucky sees him as a target.

Coonts' latest romp is a convoluted caper with a few too many chefs to keep straight. And, it takes Lucky a little too long to find her footing. She's too unsure of herself, not like Lucky. Mona recognizes it, telling Lucky that she "had guts, a willingness to tackle life", but that she lost it for a while. It's part of the storyline, but it dragged on for too long. Lucky needed to find her stride in this book.

Saying that, my favorite part of the book was still the return to the Babylon with all of Lucky's friends, her assistants Miss P. and Brandy; the private detective, "The Beautiful Jeremy Whitlock"; Romeo, the police detective that works closely with Lucky; Lucky's parents, and, even Teddie. Lucky's life, with all of its ups and downs, all of its adventures, wouldn't be the same without these characters. A caper wouldn't be the same without wonderful, well-drawn characters.

Deborah Coonts' Lucky O'Toole capers offer charming characters in the make-believe world that can only be Las Vegas. Lucky Catch reunites all of them in a mystery involving the killer world of culinary genius and competition.

Deborah Coonts' website is www.deborahcoonts.com

Lucky Catch by Deborah Coonts. Cool Gus Publishing. 2014. ISBN 9781500194529 (paperback), 255p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author had a copy sent to me, hoping I would review it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shadows on a Maine Christmas by Lea Wait

"Waymouth, Maine. How could anything bad ever happen in a place as beautiful, as perfect, as this one?" With that second sentence, author Lea Wait dooms Waymouth in the intriguing mystery, Shadows on a Maine Christmas. When antiques print dealer Maggie Smith goes to Maine knowing she has decisions to make, she doesn't realize she'll also get caught up in a murder investigation over the Christmas holidays.

Maggie knows she wants to adopt, but the man she loves doesn't want children. And, she's in New Jersey while Will has moved to Maine to take care of his ninety-two-year-old Aunt Nettie. Maggie and Will have to have a discussion, but it can probably wait while they enjoy the Christmas festivities in the picture-perfect town of Waymouth. And, Nettie is excited to host some women who have been part of her life for decades. One of Nettie's friends, Betty, has Alzheimer's though, and reacts to Will with fear at one point. Maybe they can overlook her reaction, but fear rears it's ugly head again when Betty's caregiver is murdered.

Against Will's advice, Aunt Nettie and Maggie team up to ask questions. Aunt Nettie has secrets, and she might be willing to reveal her own, but she isn't willing to tell those that belong to other people in town. And, Waymouth has secrets that go back decades, as well as violent secrets today. This Christmas season, Maggie will uncover unexpected strength and tragedy.

It's difficult to comment on Shadows on a Maine Christmas without giving away too much. Wait touches on social issues and women's history in a compelling mystery. She blends Christmas observations, small town beauty, a little antique background, with personal relationships. It's not easy to combine charm and tragedy, but Lea Wait succeeds beautifully in Shadows on a Maine Christmas.

Lea Wait's website is www.leawait.com

Shadows on a Maine Christmas by Lea Wait. Perseverance Press. 2014. ISBN 9781564745477 (paperback), 224p.

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Blood of an Englishman by M.C. Beaton

I had never read an Agatha Raisin mystery before I agreed to participate in the anniversary celebration for the 25th book in M.C. Beaton's series featuring her. Beaton's The Blood of an Englishman may exemplify the cozy mystery. But, in some ways, she also turns some of the tropes on their head. Agatha Raisin smokes, drinks, hates tea, heads up her own private detective agency (without a license), and is man-crazy. None of those sweet romances in a cozy mystery for Beaton. It's actually a fun, refreshing change.

Agatha Raisin also hates amateur theatrics, but agrees to attend a local production of Babes in the Woods with her friend, Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar's wife. She finds nothing to recommend the play, except the play's producer, Gareth Craven, who is handsome. When the police cars start to gather after the play, though, Agatha realizes there was something to attract her attention. Bert Simple, the local baker who played the ogre, had disappeared down a trapdoor, and never appeared for the ovation. It seems he was murdered in a particularly gruesome fashion as he exited via that trapdoor.

Gareth Craven, heading the list of suspects, asks Agatha to investigate. To her disgust, she learns that every handsome man involved in the case seems to be infatuated with Gwen Simple, the baker's wife. And, there are times during the lengthy investigation when Agatha just loses interest. "Agatha Raisin, when she was not obsessed with some man or other, became de-energized." It's that predatory interest, though, that leads to a few interesting clues, and a few terrorizing moments for Agatha, before she discovers the unsavory solution.

I've read comments from others who say they tire of Agatha Raisin's obsession with men. I found it funny, and a change from the behavior of sleuths in other cozy mysteries. I appreciated the length of time it took to solve the case. It wasn't wrapped up in a couple days. And, I enjoyed a more mature sleuth, one with a few idiosyncrasies.

If you're like me, and haven't read an Agatha Raisin mystery before, don't hesitate to pick up the twenty-fifth book in the series. There's a reason the series has gone on that long. The latest book is an entertaining mystery. The Blood of an Englishman is a fun introduction to the cranky, lovable, needy Agatha Raisin.

M.C. Beaton's website is www.MCBeaton.com

The Blood of an Englishman by M.C. Beaton. Minotaur Books. 2014. ISBN 9780312616267 (hardcover), 304p.

Note: Don't forget this week's giveaway of three copies of The Blood of an Englishman. Details on Monday's blog.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book so I could participate in the anniversary celebration and giveaway.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Anniversary Giveaway - M.C. Beaton's The Blood of an Englishman

Yes, we're celebrating the publication of M.C. Beaton's 25h Agatha Raisin mystery, The Blood of an Englishman. Thanks to Minotaur Books, I have three copies to give away. They'll send a finished copy to one winner, and I'll send out two ARCs. So, email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read "Win The Blood of an Englishman." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, Sept. 18 at 6 PM CT.

And, if you're still uncertain, check out my review of this fun mystery tomorrow.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Steven Marcus, editor of Hammett for The Library of America, said "In a few years of extraordinary creative energy Dashiell Hammett invented the modern crime novel." In referring to The Thin Man "His last novel, The Thin Man, a ruefully comic tip of the hat to the traditional mystery form, introduces Nick and Nora Charles, the sophisticated inebriates who would enjoy a long afterlife in the movies." So, call me a heretic. I didn't find anything particularly appealing about Nick and Nora. I am going to watch the movie since I'm leading a book discussion for "Adapted For the Silver Screen". With the book, I found Nick to be a bored man who married a younger wife. He quit his profession, drinks too much (constantly), and flirts too much. Nora just seems bored with her life, looks for excitement wherever she can find it, and, again, drinks, flirts, and pushes Nick into trouble.

And, trouble, naturally in the crime novels set in the '30s, comes in the form of a dame. In this case, it's a young, totally messed up dame, Dorothy Wynant, who is looking for her father, and wants Nick to help her. Nick once knew her father, but insists he gave up his private investigator status when Nora inherited a fortune. But Dorothy seems infatuated with Nick, and Nora takes the younger woman under her wing. As much as Nick opposes involvement with Dorothy and all of her crazy family, the murder of a secretary drags him into an investigation. Everyone but Nick seems to think Dorothy's father is the culprit. Nick suspects otherwise.

The Thin Man is the story of a world-weary Nick Charles who takes on a case to please his wife, a woman always looking for the next exciting moment. While they're visiting New York, they spend their days and nights drinking, attending shows, going to speakeasies, and to Nora's enchantment, mixing with criminals, cops, and suspects. I found it a sad story of unhappy people. No matter how much money they had, or the state of their marriages, no one in the book seems happy. And, honestly? By the end of the book, I didn't care who killed the secretary or where Dorothy Wynant's father was. I just wanted Nick to solve the case so he could dump those awful Wynants.

After reading the book, I watched the movie. It was much more enjoyable than the book. The relationship between Nick and Nora was better. And, Asta had a much larger role in the movie. The movie was better. As it is, I only found the book to be sad and depressing.

(I read The Thin Man in The Library of America's collection Hammett: Complete Novels.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Moment of Everything by Shelly King

"Books don't change people's lives, not like everyone thinks they do." With that opening sentence, Shelly King grabbed me and didn't let go until I finished her debut novel, The Moment of Everything. I love books about books, bookstores and reading. The Moment of Everything is all of that, with a twist.

At thirty-four, Maggie Dupres finds herself out of a job in Silicon Valley, laid off when her job was outsourced to India. Now, she's spending all of her time hanging out at the Dragonfly, a used bookstore. While she's supposed to be looking for a job, her landlord, Hugo, the owner of the store, lets her sit there reading three historical romances a day. Although Maggie has a degree in library science, she followed her best friend, Dizzy, to California, and ended up working in a start-up. But, Dizzy has a plan to get her back in the company. He's wrangled an invitation to a book club where one woman has money, power and connections. But, Maggie's copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover isn't the same edition everyone else has. Her copy is falling apart, picked up at Dragonfly. And, she needs the notes inside to get her through the book club.

Maggie finds more than simple notes in the book.  She finds a magical conversation between two people, Henry and Catherine, who left notes to each other in the bookstore's copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover. It's Catherine telling Henry that it's only in the pages of the book that they can belong to each other. And, it's Henry responding that they're both afraid to meet. "Fear isn't real. It's just emotion mixed with memory." And, when Maggie tries to find Henry and Catherine, the two lovers who wrote in the book, she finds answers to questions she didn't know she had, questions about love, finding the right person in life, and finding the right place in life.

In some ways, Shelly King's novel is also a love letter to librarians, although Maggie never worked in the field. But, she was passionate about books, horrifying her mother when she was eight and announced she wanted to be a librarian. "The librarians I knew were superheroes of data. Like the Old World explorers, they navigated uncharted oceans of information, drawing maps to get anyone anywhere. And they were the keepers of things other people forgot, archiving the incidents of life and piecing them together." (Thank you, Shelly King.)

The Moment of Everything is not like other wonderful books about bookstores and books. It's a contemporary story about geeks and gamers, the same people who love and buy used books. It's Maggie's story, as she tells it, her story of disillusionment with life and love. There are books and bookstores, sex, and unusual meetings, and a grumpy cat. It's sad at times. It's also filled with hope and books. And, it's filled with beautiful writing, conversations between Henry and Catherine, and conversations between Maggie and the reader. King's The Moment of Everything is magic and tragic, and everything that a contemporary novel about a used bookstore should be, comfortable and a little dusty and shady at the same time. It's just perfect.

Shelly King's website is www.ShellyKing.com

The Moment of Everything by Shelly King. Grand Central Publishing. 2014. ISBN 9781455546794 (paperback), 274p.

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Winners and a Carolyn Hart "Win It Before You Can Buy It" Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the Linda Castillo giveaway. The Dead Will Tell goes to Margie B. from San Jose, CA. Lani S. from Narberth, PA won Her Last Breath. The books will go out in the mail today.

I have a very special giveaway this week, three autographed ARCs (Advanced Readers' Copies) of Carolyn Hart's next book, Ghost Wanted. Carolyn herself sent these copies of the forthcoming Bailey Ruth Ghost mystery. Bailey Ruth Raeburn's supervisor in Heaven's Department of Good Intentions sends her back to Adelaide, Oklahoma where one of his friends is in trouble. The ghost of elegant Lorraine Marlow haunts the college library there, where she acts as matchmaker for the students. But someone is causing trouble, and Wiggins worries that his friend's reputation will be ruined. Then, soon after she arrives, the problems get worse when a security guard is shot. Even when the odds are stacked against her, Bailey Ruth will work to find the culprit.

Ghost Wanted is scheduled for release on Oct. 7, so three people will actually win autographed copies before you can buy the book. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read "Win Ghost Wanted." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end next Thursday, Sept. 18 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

TBR Piles

I had to finish a book last night for a review for a journal, so I haven't had much time to read for myself. I did get a chance to run home on my lunch hour, though, and pick up all of my packages. Books, of course! So, here's what I opened today.

Out of all those books, though, the one I started is one that I actually bought, The Moment of Everything by Shelly King. Some of the others aren't due out yet, so those books are going on my TBR (to be read) pile. So, what are you reading right now, and what's on your TBR pile at the moment?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Wolfe Widow by Victoria Abbott

I don't know when I've enjoyed a mystery as much as Victoria Abbott's The Wolfe Widow. Anyone who is fond of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries should appreciate this homage to that classic series. Abbott attempts to emulate the series, right down to the famous scene when all the characters are brought together so the sleuth can confront the killer. Bravo, Victoria Abbott!

Nine days before Thanksgiving Jordan Bingham can no longer be thankful for her job along with a place to live and outstanding food. She thought she was indispensable to Vera Van Alst, helping her upgrade her vast collection of books while selling others. However, when the formidable Muriel Delgado appeared at the door, forcing her way in, Jordan was fired, thrown out of the house. But, Muriel Delgado didn't know how formidable Jordan Bingham could be, nor how ingenious. What would Archie Goodwin do to find out the truth about Muriel's hold on Vera Van Alst?

Jordan has always been able to rely on her friends for help, but this time she's on her own. For some reason, her best friends aren't answering their phones. So, it's up to Jordan to dig around to find out who Muriel Delgado is. It doesn't help that Jordan's quirky Uncle Kev, still on the premises as a handyman, reports that Muriel is running the household, getting rid of Vera's beloved books, and even her Siamese cats. When Jordan herself becomes a victim, she knows she's right to fear Muriel Delgado and her plans for Vera Van Alst.

A summary of this book can't do justice to the comedy and escapades in The Wolfe Widow. Jordan sees herself as a female Archie Goodwin dressed in vintage clothing. With her friends awol, she pulls together an unlikely crew of assistants, from Uncle Kev to a sexy cable "guy". And, even then, she knows she can really only rely on herself and her slightly shady uncles.

Abbott gives readers a fun plot, a cast of eccentric characters, and a dramatic library scene right out of a Nero Wolfe mystery. If I have a quibble, it's with the excuses provided by Jordan's friends, who really just seem to be conveniently absent. But, that's a mild complaint about one of the most entertaining mysteries I've read this year. The Wolfe Widow would be a welcome addition to any cozy mystery reader's library, even Vera Van Alst's.

Victoria Abbott's website is www.victoria-abbott.com

The Wolfe Widow by Victoria Abbott. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425255308 (paperback), 294p.

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

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Death Dealer by Kate Clark Flora

I'm not a fan of true crime that emphasizes the crime and the brutality of it. However, the subtitle of Kate Clark Flora's book, Death Dealer, indicates she takes a different tack. Subtitled "How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice", it follows the police who investigated the disappearance of Maria Tanasichuk. Flora takes readers step-by-step through the investigation, arrest, and trial, with emphasis on the investigation. As a fan of police procedurals, I found this account riveting.

The story of Maria Tanasichuk takes place in the small community of Mirimichi, New Brunswick. And, the prologue pulls the reader into the story as it tells of the fears of a police officer that a predator was outside his house, one who had sworn he'd get even with the police for following him and considering him a suspect. And, then the author backs up, and leads us to that scene. On Jan. 26, 2003, David Tanasichuk reported that his wife Maria was missing. Detective Brian Cummings was immediately sympathetic and concerned. He had grown to know the Tanasichuks after Maria's son, B.J. was killed. Cummings had seen them as parents of the victim, and he spent a great deal of time with them.

And, then David's story started to sound strange to Cummings. Why did he wait ten days to report his wife missing? Why were his dates at variance with those of Maria's friends? David's story that he and Maria were having problems due to his increased drug use was credible. But as one lie piled up on another, it became obvious that the police had to look at Maria's husband as a suspect in her disappearance. And, once David Tanasichuk understood the police suspected him as knowing more than he was telling, he turned on the police, threatening their families. Tanasichuk had a reputation for violence, along with skill with guns and bows and arrows. He was a cunning man, and his lies proved he couldn't be trusted. As the small force hunkered down, protecting their families with alarms and guns, they became desperate to find answers. Where was Maria?

Flora carefully leads readers through the investigation, month after month of talking to witnesses, following clues, hunting for a body. And, then, one detective thinks to ask for help from another country, bringing in the Maine game wardens and volunteers with their cadaver dogs.

Death Dealer is as riveting as any true crime show on television, as Flora carefully follows the investigation, introducing all the players, the police, the suspect, the friends and witnesses. And, then she leads us through the anxiety of waiting and searching with the dogs. There's drama every step of the way, leading up to the suspense of a trial.

Kate Flora tells the dramatic story of a small police force determined to find justice for the members of their community, if it takes sleepless nights, hours of backbreaking investigation. Death Dealer is not the story of a killer. It's a story of heroic action to bring answers, and find justice, for a woman who was a victim of violence.

Kate Flora's website is www.kateflora.com, and she is one of the bloggers at MaineCrimeWriters.com

Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice. New Horizon Press. 2014. ISBN 9780882824765 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Monday, September 08, 2014

Dataclysm by Christian Rudder

Christian Rudder defines Dataclysm as "An unprecedented deluge of digital information reshaping our view of the world". The cofounder and president of OKCupid, has gathered data from that site and other sites, analyzed it, and compiled it into a fascinating book that examines what we share on social media. The result is  Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One's Looking.

In my workplace, we talk about the fact that people tell us one thing, but their actions say something different. In fact, we're in the process of using a service similar to what stores use to actually examine the actions and behavior of our customers. So, Rudder's book showing analytics that actually tell what is happening, rather than surveying people to see what they say, is intriguing and right in line with what we're doing. Rudder uses all his data to tell "the human story", how people behave on sites such as OKCupid and Twitter when they think no one is watching.

Before social media, universities studied their students, which slanted the results. Rudder says it even has a name, WEIRD research: white, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. Hardly a good judge of society. But, Rudder claims all of our networks present a better picture of society. He examines his own site to look at how people behave when it comes to sex. Rudder examines beauty and race in the book. The chapter "Days of Rage" and the mob reaction on Twitter to some comments was an intriguing chapter. There's discussion of government use of data, as well as the use merchants, banks, and social media makes of it.

But, Rudder is an optimist, one who hopes data will ultimately be used for good, as a way to discover what we have in common as humans, as well as a way to reach us as individuals. It's this optimism, coupled with the research and data, that makes Dataclysm a fascinating book. His book ends with a wish, a hope for the future of social media data. "To use data to know yet not manipulate, to explore but not to pry, to protect and not to smother, to see yet never expose, and, above all, to repay that priceless gift we bequeath to the world when we share our lives so that other lives might be better - and to fulfill for everyone that oldest of human hopes, from Gilgamesh to Ramses to today: that our names be remembered, not only in stone but as part of memory itself."

Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One's Looking by Christian Rudder. Crown Publishers. 2014. ISBN 9780385347372 (hardcover), 272p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received an ARC from the publisher, with no promises of a review.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Nightmares Can Be Murder by Mary Kennedy

Mary Kennedy launches a mystery series with an unusual element, a dream club in which members gather to discuss their dreams. Whether or not you accept that dreams reveal much about life,  Nightmares Can Be Murder is a compelling mystery. Kennedy brings together a dream club, a terrific amateur sleuth who is a disbeliever, a vintage candy store and delectable Southern food, and Savannah. This new series promises to be a treat in so many ways.

Business consultant Taylor Blake temporarily moved to Savannah to help her younger sister, Ali, save Oldies but Goodies, Ali's vintage candy store. Ali has always been a dreamer, and this is her fourth venture since graduating from college. Taylor's the realistic one, so she has a hard time accepting the serious tone the members of Ali's dream club use when they discuss their dreams. They take them very seriously, including one woman's dream about a murder in Savannah. And, then a man is murdered, and the scene is eerily reminiscent of the dream. Is there someone in the club that knows more than she's telling? Unfortunately, Ali is one of those members who has a secret or two that attracts the attention of the police. Taylor, always a protective older sister, knows Ali isn't a killer. If it means teaming up with two friends, one a reporter, and one an old love, Taylor will do it to find who wanted the man dead. And, it seems there are a number of women, including members of the dream club, who might have wanted him dead.

It's always a joy to discover the first in a new well-written mystery series. Nightmares Can Be Murder has so much going for it, beginning with excellent storytelling and that interesting dream club. A few characters, Taylor and Ali, are already well-developed, and there are a number of promising secondary characters. I'm looking forward to learning more about the two elderly sisters. One of them is particularly shrewd. The little community of shop owners has possibilities. Savannah is wonderful as a setting. And, Taylor's small team of friends are capable investigators.

Looking for a new discovery in the mystery genre? Mary Kennedy's Nightmares Can Be Murder offers a fresh idea, interesting characters, and a charming setting. Welcome to Savannah, where dreams might just come true.

Mary Kennedy's website is www.marykennedy.net

Nightmares Can Be Murder by Mary Kennedy. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425268056 (paperback), 292p.

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

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Marked Down for Murder by Josie Belle

I had an English teacher who would have marked me down for the comment I'm going to make about the characters in Josie Belle's latest mystery, Marked Down for Murder. What word would you use to describe Maggie Gerber and her friends the Good Buy Girls when they all team up to help Maggie's nemesis? The most appropriate description is they're "nice" women.

Summer Phillips and Maggie have been competitive since they were five years old. They both liked Sam Collins in high school. They even own consignment shops across the street from each other. But, Maggie has reunited with Sam after he moved back to be police chief of St. Stanley. Isn't it a little childish to worry about competition in your forties? Especially this close to Valentine's Day when Sam is sending roses with message hints. At least it seems that way until Summer's mother comes to town, and tries to break them up so Summer can have Sam. She tries everything, even bribery. That's the last straw for Maggie, who rushes over to have it out with Summer, only to find her archenemy crying over a corpse and holding the bloody weapon.

Worrying about her safety, Sam warns Maggie not to get involved. But, she and her friends are already too involved. It's a small town, and despite her feelings for Summer and her mother, Maggie doesn't think Summer could kill anyone. And, Maggie's convinced Sam just doesn't remember what it's like in a small community. Everyone helps a neighbor. And, of course, she'll tell Sam everything they uncover.

The Good Buy Girls is a series that celebrates friendship, and, in this case, romance, along with the mystery. There's a cast of likable characters, beginning with Maggie, Sam, and their friends. I just love Deputy Dot Wilson. Only "nice" people would rally around to support two women as dislikable as Summer and her mother. But, the twists in the plot force even the reader to sympathize with Summer Phillips. It's a mystery with an unusual turn, but it's the characters who will draw readers back. "Nice" women in a small town don't want to see anyone Marked Down for Murder.

Josie Belle is Jenn McKinlay, whose website is www.jennmckinlay.com

Marked Down for Murder by Jenn McKinlay. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425271360 (paperback), 260p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Both the publisher and the author sent me copies of the book, hoping I would review it.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Winners and A Favorite Author Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Austin C. from Evansville, IN won Eleanor Kuhns' Cradle to Grave. Patricia R. of Kansas City, KS won Donis Casey's The Wrong Hill to Die On. The books will go out today.

I have some terrific giveaways coming up in September! This week, I'm giving away two books by one of my favorite mystery authors, Linda Castillo. If you haven't yet discovered the world of Kate Burkholder, Police Chief in Painter's Mill, Ohio, you're in for a thrill. And, I did say thrill. These are not cozy mysteries set in Amish country. These are gritty thrillers involving a police chief with a past, and an FBI agent with his own troubled history. Wonderful books!

So, I have a copy of Her Last Breath, now out in trade paperback. It's the story of an Amish family thrown from heir buggy after a hit-and-run. But, the deaths of the father and two children turn out to be more than a hit-and-run as Kate Burkholder investigates. And, the widow? Kate's best friend from childhood.

I also have an ARC of The Dead Will Tell, a fascinating story of a cold case still haunting people years later. In 1979, an Amish father and his four children died in a robbery attempt that went terribly wrong. His wife disappeared, leaving only a fourteen-year-old survivor. Now, in 2014, there are only a few that know the terrible secrets of that night. Now, one by one, they're turning up dead.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read either "Win Her Last Breath" or "Win The Dead Will Tell." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. CT.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Books and Bottles

Last night we kicked off a new book discussion group called Books and Bottles. We met at Winzerwald Winery Evansville Tasting Room because a friend had never been to a book discussion group, and we wanted to make it a non-threatening environment. So, we picked a theme. Any book by Lisa Scottoline, which gave us both her fiction and the collections of essays.

Although it was a small group, we had a great time. That means I didn't finish my book for today. But, I wanted to tell you about the evening. We did talk about Lisa Scottoline's books. But, we also talked about Susan Vreeland's books, Clara and Mr. Tiffany, and Luncheon of the Boating Party. And, we talked about Seabiscuit and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. And, we talked about all of that with Ray, the manager of the tasting room. Of course, we also bought the sampler, tastes of six wines, and Ray explained what they were. Cheese, crackers, wine, and book discussion. Fun evening. (And, if my sister wants to try German wines when she comes in November, we'll head over there on Saturday.)

We're going back next month. The topic? Banned books.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A Place Called Hope by Philip Gulley

It's been seven years since the last book in Philip Gulley's charming Harmony series featuring Quaker minister Sam Gardner. Now, Gulley launches a spin-off series, catching up with Sam and his family, in A Place Called Hope.

It's a time of change for the Gardner family. Levi is off to college. Addison is a high school senior, looking at his own future. And, Sam and Barbara have to decide what their lives will be as empty-nesters. Barbara is tired of Harmony and the pettiness of some of the people in the Harmony Friends Meeting. Sam is in his fourteenth year as minister there, and he's just tired. Some of the Friends just can't tolerate the changes in Harmony, such as the new Unitarian Church. When Sam agrees, in a moment of fellowship, to step in and handle a wedding in the church when the minister is sick, it creates an uproar in his own church.

Although it is illegal for a gay couple to marry in Indiana, Sam looks up to discover he's presiding at a ceremony for two women in the Unitarian Church. After a discussion with them, he agrees to say a prayer. And, a simple prayer leads to disharmony in Harmony. Sam faces unemployment or a job in the hardware store. Barbara puts in more hours at the local public library. And, then a woman calls from Hope, Indiana, where they need a minister. It's a small meeting, with only twelve members, but they do have a pie committee.

Philip Gulley highlights change in his new book, A Place Called Hope. Whether it's kids leaving home, new jobs, new communities, or a change in beliefs and practices, time doesn't stand still for anyone, even the Gardners. As much as Sam loves his hometown, and Barbara hates to see her boys grow up, the world moves on. And, sometimes, it just takes a little hope, a little humor, and a welcoming heart, to find new ideas and a new home of the heart.

Philip Gulley's website is www.philipgulley.com

Personal note: We're hosting Philip Gulley at our North Park Branch Library on Sept. 22. If you're in the Evansville area, we'd love to have you come!

A Place Called Hope by Philip Gulley. Center Street. 2014. ISBN 9781455519804 (hardcover), 256p.

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

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Skeleton Takes a Bow by Leigh Perry

After only two books, Leigh Perry's Family Skeleton mystery series has become one of my favorite series. The Thackerys may have an unusual family, but don't mess with any of them. If you mess with one, you mess with all of them. In The Skeleton Takes a Bow, the family love and humor are forefront in an enjoyable mystery.

Sid, the family skeleton, and Georgia Thackery's daughter, Madison, hatch a plot to include Sid in one of Madison's high school activities, the production of Hamlet. They convince Georgia that Sid can play the part of Yorick's skull, going to school every day with Madison. And, Sid enjoys all the opportunities to eavesdrop on high school romances and schemes until the night Madison accidentally leaves him at school, and he overhears a murder. Despite Georgia's attempt to involve the police, they couldn't find evidence of murder at the high school. But, Georgia knows her best friend, Sid, wouldn't lie. And, Sid, Georgia and Madison team up to find a body and a killer.

Perry skillfully weaves together Georgia's life as an adjunct professor, Madison's school life, family life, and a murder investigation. Yes, it's an unusual family, but it's charming. Here's a picture of "a homey scene. Madison curled up on the couch, Sid with his hands behind his skull and his feet up on the ottoman, and Byron gnawing happily on his bone with only the occasional longing look at Sid's femur. Admittedly, it was more Charles Addams than Norman Rockwell, but it was home." And, that unusual family, along with Georgia's gruff sister, Deborah, takes precautions to ensure everyone is safe, until one night when a crowd separates them. Then, they present one front.

There's a complicated motive and background for murder in this appealing mystery. The Skeleton Takes a Bow deserves applause for its refreshing departure from the cozy mystery formula. The cast is an unusual family including a skeleton. There's a great deal of humor, often due to the long friendship between Georgia and Sid. And, there are loving family relationships rather than romance.

Looking for charm, family, humor, and mystery? Look no further than Leigh Perry's The Skeleton Takes a Bow.

Leigh Perry's website is www.leighperryauthor.com

The Skeleton Takes a Bow by Leigh Perry. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425255834 (paperback), 293p.

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

Monday, September 01, 2014

October Treasures in My Closet

Ah, October. Cooler days. Here in the Midwest, leaves changing colors. And, another pile of books to entice readers. Here are the October forthcoming books I already have, books to beckon you into fall.

Tasha Alexander takes readers back to her Victorian series with The Counterfeit Heiress. After an odd encounter at a masquerade ball, Lady Emily becomes caught up in the murder investigation of a guest, an actress trying to pass herself off as a mysterious heiress who hasn't been seen publicly in years. Now, Lady Emily and her husband, Colin Hargreaves, journey from London to Paris looking into the truth behind two mysteries. (Release date is Oct. 14.)

Gretchen Archer's capers feature Davis Way's mishaps. In Double Strike, a storm hits the Gulf a week before the Strike It rich Sweepstakes at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino. Here's "A VIP invitation to an extraordinary high-stakes gaming event as thieves, feds, dance instructors, shady bankers, kidnappers, and gold waiters go all in." (Release date is Oct. 21.)

Robert Dugoni is known for his legal thrillers. Now, in My Sister's Grave, he gives us a whodunit with a family story at its heart, the story of a homicide detective determined to avenge the murder of her beloved younger sister, no matter what the cost. Tracy Crosswhite changed her career, becoming a homicide detective after her sister's disappearance and murder. But, twenty years after an ex-con was convicted, Tracy still questions whether the right man went to jail. Now, Tracy teams up with a friend and attorney to exonerate the convicted man, and find her sister's killer. (Release date is Oct. 14.)

Debut novel! I'm a fan of debuts, so here's Allen Eskens' The Life We Bury. College student Joe Talbert's wirting assignment leads him to interview Carl Iverson, a dying Vietnam vet who spent thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder, and has been medically paroled to die in a nursing home. But, Joe can't reconcile the two sides of Carl's character, and he teams up with a neighbor to unravel the truth. (Release date is Oct. 14.)

Bailey Ruth returns! Ghost Wanted is Carolyn Hart's latest mystery featuring Bailey Ruth Raeburn of Heaven's Department of Good Intentions. And, this one involves a library! Bailey Ruth's supervisor, Wiggins, dispatches her to check on an old friend, the ghost of elegant Lorraine Marlow who haunts Adelaide, Oklahoma's college library. But, someone is making mischief in the library, stealing a valuable book, destroying property. Trouble stacks up when a campus security guard is shot, and a student is the primary suspect. It's up to Bailey Ruth to find the real culprit, and bring peace back to the library. (Release date is Oct. 7.) And, watch for my "Win It Before You Can Buy It" Giveaway in September. I have 3 autographed ARCs to give away then.

Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series returns with Shopaholic to the Stars. Becky Brandon arrived in Hollywood, all sarry-eyed, and hoping her husband would introduce her to his client, actress Sage Seymour. Becky dreams of being a personal stylist for Sage. But, she accepts a job dressing Sage's archrival. It's a dream come true of red carpet premieres and paparazzi, everything Becky always wanted. Or is it? (Release date is Oct. 21.)

I'll have a second "Win It Before You Can Buy It" giveaway in September. Although G.M. Malliet's new Max Tudor mystery, A Demon Summer, will be released in October, I"ll have galleys to give away in September. Lord Lislelivet survived a murder attempt, but he complains to the local bishop because the poison was in a fruitcake made and sold by the Handmaids of St. Lucy of Monkbury Abbey. Max Tudor, vicar and former MI5 agent investigates. He thinks the poisoning was accidental, until a body is discovered in the cloister well. (Release date is Oct. 7.)

The Margaret Mitchell estate has authorized the first-ever prequel to Gone with the Wind. Award-wining author Donald McCaig takes on the story of Mammy in Ruth's Journey, a story that sweeps from the island of Saint-Domingue to Savannah to Charleston and then Tara. Set against the backdrop of the American South from the 1820s until the dawn of the Civil War, it brings to life the story of one of the most famous supporting characters in literature. (Release date is Oct. 14.)

Hank Phillippi Ryan has won the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and Mary Higgins Clark Awards, so, of course, her latest Jane Ryland novel, Truth Be Told, is already on my calendar. In digging up the facts on the heartbreaking story of a middle-class family evicted from their suburban home, reporter Ryland uncovers foreclosures that lead to a big-bucks scheme and players who will stop at nothing to keep their goal a secret. While she works that story, Boston police detective Jake Brogan deals with a man who confessed to a twenty-year-old crime, but Brogan isn't so sure the man is telling the truth. Once again, Ryan and her characters dig into the stories behind the headlines. (Release date is Oct. 7.)

I think most of the books I want to read are going to be released on October 7. I love Terry Shames' Samuel Craddock mysteries, so I'm looking forward to Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek. The town of Jarrett Creek, Texas is bankrupt, so retired police chief Samuel Craddock is asked to return. And, his first case involves the death of Gary Dellmore, heir apparent to the main bank. He's a man who supposedly had a roving eye, and made some bad business investments. He also took a kickback on a loan, one that led to the town's bankruptcy. It seems a lot of people in Jarrett Creek might have wanted Gary Dellmore dead. When there's evidence of another crime, the townspeople learn something a lawman always knows. A town isn't as peaceful and innocent as it appears. (Release date is Oct. 7.)

Jeffrey Siger takes readers into an unfamiliar culture and location in Greece in Sons of Sparta. In the mountainous Peloponnese, the Mani families have a history of pirates, highwaymen and endless vendettas with neighbors. When Special Crimes Division Detective Yiannis Kouros is summoned their by his uncle, he fears pressure to act in some new vendetta since his uncle once headed a criminal enterprise. But, the family is about to become rich through the sale of its property, until the uncle is killed, along with the deal. But even the solution to a murder is not simple when Greece's government corruption comes into play. (Release date is Oct. 7.)

Some Luck launches the first in a trilogy by Jane Smiley, a series of books that will take readers into the lives of the Langdon family. The Langdons are an Iowa farm family, led by Walter Langdon, the family patriarch, his wife and their five children. Each chapter covers a year, beginning in 1920 when Walter returns home from the trenches of World War I, and going up to the 1950s. The story, with roots in the story of Smiley's own family, will eventually cover a century of transformation in America. (Release date is Oct. 7.)

Night Blindness is Susan Strecker's debut novel. When Jensen Reilly was sixteen, she and her high school sweetheart are involved in a horrible accident. Since then, Jensen has been running from her past. But, when her father is diagnosed with a brain tumor, she returns home where all the memories of her old life come flooding back, along with the people she's tried to escape. (Release date is Oct. 7.)

New York Times bestselling author Colm Toibin brings us Nora Webster, a novel set in Ireland about a young widow and mother of four, navigating grief and fear, struggling for hope. When Nora's husband leaves her a widow at forty, she lost the love of her life, and the man who rescued her from her past. Fearing she'll be drawn back into it, she's drowning in her own sorrow, blind to the suffering of her young sons. But, when she begins to sing again, after decades, she finds herself. (Release date is Oct. 7.)

Well, here's a book that doesn't come out on Oct. 7, Ashley Weaver's debut mystery, Murder at the Brightwell. Deborah Crombie refers to it as "An elegant Christie-esque 1930s romp...With its dash of romance, Amory Ames and her rakish husband, Milo, might just be the new Nick and Nora Charles." Amory Ames is a wealthy young woman who regrets her marriage to her notoriously charming playboy husband, Milo. She's looking for a change when she accompanies her former fiance, Gil, to the Brightwell Hotel to help circumvent his sister's marriage. When the groom-to-be is murdered, Gil is arrested, and Amory becomes embroiled in trying to clear his name. Matters become more complicated when Milo turns up. Now Amory must decide where her heart lies, and catch a killer before she becomes the next victim. (Release date is Oct. 14.)

Last Words is the first book in Rich Zahradnik's Coleridge Taylor mystery series. In March of 1975, newsman Coleridge Taylor roams police precincts and ERs looking for a story that will get him out from obits. It's the body of a homeless teen that gets him into trouble, when his digging reeals the boy was a spoiled society kid up to no kid, the son of a city official. And, now Taylor's trying to protect a homeless man from goons trying to kill any number of street people to cover tracks. And Taylor and his one ally in the newsroom need to wrap that story before they become part of the obits page. (Release date is Oct. 1.)

So, what do you think of the October releases? Enough to keep you occupied for the month? I know it's an enticing collection of books. Happy reading!