Friday, October 31, 2014

Coffee with Authors in Nashville

Thanks to a friend we made while standing in line on Saturday morning, we were able to get into a packed event, Coffee with Authors at the Nashville Main Library. They did have a few slots for people without tickets. And, because it was listed as part of the Southern Festival of Books, we didn't even know we were supposed to have tickets.

Coffee with Authors was the National Reading Group Month Signature Event sponsored by WNBA (Women's National Books Association), Nashville Chapter. It was four authors in conversation with the moderator. The authors were: Nadia Hashimi (The Pearl That Broke Its Shell), Lily King (Euphoria), Ann Weisgarber (The Promise), and Gabrielle Zevin (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry). Mary Laura Philpott, author, editor, and freelance writer was the moderator.

Left to right - Hashimi, Zevin, Weisgarber, King

Philpott started by asking the authors about the seed of their books. Nadia Hashimi said The Pearl
That Broke Its Shell begins with Afghanistan. That's her family background, and she has cousins there. Families who only have girls do sometimes transform a daughter into a boy. She wanted to look at gender, and what it means to be a girl in Afghanistan.

Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry actually has overtones of George Eliot's Silas Marner, and the toddler he takes in. It's about a persnickety bookseller who finds a toddler who has been left in his bookstore.

The Promise by Ann Weisgarber is set in 1900, and involves the Galveston Island hurricane. The
island is twenty-seven miles long, and it was the worst U.S. natural disaster. But, no one has told about the rural end of the island. Weisgarber was haunted by the lost voices, the people whose stories were never told.

Lily King's Euphoria began in a bookstore. Her favorite bookstore in Portland, Maine, was closing, and having a close-out sale. She felt shell-shocked that it was closing, and felt she had to buy a book. So, she grabbed a biography of Margaret Mead. She was sucked in by the first ten pages. In 1933, Mead was in New Guinea with her second husband, and they weren't getting along. Then they met cultural anthropologist Gregory Bateson. It was love at first sight for all three. They spent five months together in an intense love triangle. They were open and honest about it.

The next question was about book clubs. What gets a conversation going? King said with Euphoria, members have had different feelings about the characters. There have been fights over the the behavior of the characters. What's right and wrong? There have been discussions about Western greed and the ideas of of science and expansion, Western contact with "the primitive".

Weisgarber said she only wrote the books. Readers have their own interpretation, and they side with one narrator or the other. She's seen some of the discussions become a little too personal, and she's seen them evolve into discussions of the readers' own wedding nights.

Zevin agreed, saying when book groups select a book, it allows them to put on masks, and they can discuss themselves while wearing masks.

Hishimi said her readers look at the relationships of the women in the book, and they're surprised that the women are not as supportive of each other as you would think in difficult situations. But, each situation is different for each person, and they're looking at their own life rather than how they could make a difference in the world.

What is their writing process? Zevin's first book came out ten years ago. She always pictured the process as an author on a divan, with candles all around, seducing herself into writing. Her actual process evolves with each book. She doesn't need to fall in love with things in order to write. She does extended dossiers on each character so she knows them, and it frees up the process.

Ann Weisgarber said she finds writing a pain, and will sometimes do everything she can to avoid writing, going so far as to mop the floor. When she's stuck, she goes to the library, and looks at all the books. Then she thinks, if those people can do it, so can I. She'll read the first pages of books. And, she'll often begin with "Once upon a time..." to get started.

Nadia Hashimi said she has to get away from home and distractions. So, this is the point when she says this book is brought to you by my good friends at Panera. She knows where all the outlets are there. She really makes writing a priority, and has to make it important.

Lily King's writing process was fascinating. She actually brought along her notebooks to show the audience. She gets up at 5:30 or 6 to get writing. That's the ideal time for her. She writes exactly as she did in high school when she took creative writing. She uses a spiral lined notebook, and writes by hand. She uses empty pages at the end for notes. She makes a timeline, and showed the timeline. She even keeps a wiring log, showing how much she wrote each day.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? For Nadia, it was recently, 2009-2010, when she was 31 or 32, and her husband said, "Why don't you just write a book?"

Gabrielle knew it when she was a toddler. Her grandmother gave her an IBM typewriter, and she liked to type. She came from a family of angry letter writers. She got her first job at fourteen thanks to a Guns'n'Roses concert. She dated a kid because he could take her to the concert, and then she broke up with him the next day. The newspaper panned the concert, and she wrote an angry letter is response. A couple weeks later, they contacted her to see if she wanted to write music reviews. She became the teen music critic. No one knows who is on the other side of a letter or a book.

Ann thought writers were born with a glow around them. As a child, she visited Paul Laurence Dunbar's home in Dayton, Ohio, and it did seem to glow. But, once on a trip to the Badlands, she came across a picture set in the 1940s, and it wanted to give her a story. She wrote three pages about that photo. Her husband read it. It's a bad sign when a reader can't make eye contact. He said something was missing. She worked on that story for four years. She continued her education taking creative writing classes. She was teaching sociology at the time, and grew bored with it. She spent seven years on one manuscript. It's liberating to not worry about it, but to write the best possible story. It was published first in the U.K. It's important to care about the story, and something glorious will happen.

Lily said she read July Blume as a child. Her best friend, Amy, told her she was writing a novel. And, Lily wanted to write a novel, too. So, she wrote twenty-four pages. She took creative writing in high school. And, then, one day, she was catching up with her old friend, Amy, and said, remember when you wrote that novel when we were in grade school? And, Amy didn't remember it at all.

Somewhere out there is a lovely woman from Nashville who said to us, just stick with me, and you'll get in. As I said, it turned out they were letting a limited number of people in without tickets, so we would have made it. But, I'm grateful for that momentary friendship that comes from standing in line together talking about life, that friendship that says, just stick with me, and you'll get in.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Winners & Elizabeth's Cozy Mysteries

Congratulations of the winners of the last contest. Ann P. of Bolivar, MO won M.C. Beaton's The Blood of an Englishman. Laura B. will receive D.E. Ireland's Wouldn't It Be Deadly. The books will go out in the mail today.

This week, I have two cozy mysteries by authors whose names are Elizabeth. Taken In is the latest Southern Sewing Circle mystery by Elizabeth Lynn Casey. Librarian Tori Sinclair and the Sweet Briar Ladies Society Circle head to the Big Apple to appear on a morning show. But, fellow member Dixie Dunn's rendezvous with a man she met online ends with her arrest for his murder. Now, the sewing circle must unravel tangled secrets and alibis to catch a killer.

And, Elizabeth Craig's Southern Quilting mystery is Shear Trouble. The Village Quilters of Dappled Hills, North Carolina are desperate to finish their quilts before an upcoming show. But, two members of a rival quilting guild ask to join them. One, Phyllis, is hoping to join them permanently since the other is now dating her ex-boyfriend. But, when he ends up dead with Phyllis' missing shears buried in his unfaithful heart, quilter Beatrice Coleman puts her detective skills to use.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject headings should read either "Win Taken In" or "Win Shear Trouble." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, Nov. 6 at 6 PM CT.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gabrielle Zevin at the Southern Festival of Books

Gabrielle Zevin, author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, was the author I was most looking forward to hearing at the Southern Festival of Books. She was funny, and interesting, and I actually ended up hearing her twice.

Zevin was first published when she was fourteen and wrote an angry letter to the editor about a Guns 'n' Roses concert. She was then asked to be the newspaper's teen music critic. She's the author of eight novels for adults and young adults.

It was Zevin's third time at the Southern Festival of Books. This time, she was there to talk about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, a book that celebrates independent bookstores and booksellers. A bookseller finds a toddler in a bookstore in a story that shows how books can make a difference in a life.

In Feb. 2004, Zevin sold her first novel. Her second novel sold in July. Zevin said she has talked to other authors who, like her, have very sad first novel stories. There's a gap between expectations and realities.

Gabrielle Zevin loves bookstores. When she was her child, her parents would go grocery shopping and give her money to go to the bookstore so she could buy anything she wanted. Now, no one would let a child in a bookstore by herself, but at that time her parents thought nothing bad could happen in a bookstore. And nothing ever has.

Zevin asked two questions in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. "Why do bookstores matter?" "How do the stories we read define our lives?"  In the book, Maya's mother left her in a bookstore. Zevin said "Children who read become adults who want to know."

Gabrielle Zevin's parents took her to the library every week like it was church. They went to Burger King, then the library. Her parents were in computers. Her grandfather bought her books. He had been a great old Communist who wrote letters to The New Yorker.  When she was twelve, he gave her a book that he said would change her life. He gave her Satanic Verses. According to Zevin, "Children don't become readers by accident."

To Gabrielle Zevin, bookstores represent good. The French government has classified books as an essential good like food, bread, water, electricity.

Zevin thinks all published authors should belong to at least one book club. There are a number of book clubs in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Booksellers are useful as to choosing books. There's a sales rep in the book. Zevin had never thought about how a book gets from a publisher to a bookstore. A sales rep is really important. There will be between 150,000 and 250,000 books published, and the same number of self-published books next year. How do you choose? Booksellers and librarians are important.

Bookstores are about the future of literary culture. Booksellers are curators of what's good. Zevin said in England there's a program that prescribes books for people who are depressed. That's how important books are seen to be.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is Gabrielle Zevin's eighth novel. She wrote three YA novels in a row that nobody wanted. So, when she wrote Fikry she wrote the best book she could in case she never wrote another one.

Gabrielle Zevin's website is

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Betrayed by Heather Graham

Sleepy Hollow. Heather Graham's latest Krewe of Hunters novel has the perfect setting, as if this series featuring law enforcement and the paranormal needs any more creepy settings. But, I love these books. I need to go back and pick up some that I've missed over the years. But, if you're in the mood for Halloween, fascinating characters, legends and history of New York, along with the paranormal and a touch of romance, you can't go wrong with The Betrayed.

FBI agent Aiden Mahoney has tried to deny his gift, so he's a little uneasy with his new assignment to the Krewe of Hunters, a group of law enforcement people with special psychic gifts who have been handpicked. He doesn't tell anyone when an old friend, politician Richard Highsmith, appears to him and tells him, "They got me, my old friend." But, the next day he's sent to Sleepy Hollow to look for the missing Richard. Aiden knows, though, that his childhood friend is dead.

By the time Richard arrives in Sleepy Hollow, Maureen Deauville and her dog, Rollo, have already found Richard's head on top of an effigy of the headless horseman. But, Mo's job isn't over. The police look to her and Rollo, a search-and-rescue team, to find the missing body as well. But before they can find the politician's body, they find the headless body of a woman. Now, Aiden and Mo have to decide who the target was, and if someone else got in the way. A dangerous killer is taking advantage of the seasonal festivities in Sleepy Hollow, and everyone is scared. It will take research into the past, the help of some ghosts, and sleepless days and nights for the FBI, the police, and Mo to put together all the connections that lead to a cunning killer.

Graham's latest Krewe of Hunters novel introduces a fascinating new team. Aiden's unused skills complement Mo's polished ones, and her work with her dogs. And, there's a strong attraction between the two. Graham's two main characters, along with the dog, are intriguing leads. There's a host of interesting supporting characters as well.

One of the attractions of this story is the wealth of material that Graham has to use based on the Sleepy Hollow location. She capitalizes on Washington Irving and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But, there are ghosts from the Revolutionary War and the Civil War periods who are essential to this story. The setting is rich in local color, and it's a bewitching addition to Graham's book.

Graham's Krewe of Hunters series is known for the paranormal elements and the wonderful local color.  I warn you, though. They're addicting. The Betrayed is just the latest of her books that I couldn't put down.

Heather Graham's website is

The Betrayed by Heather Graham. Harlequin MIRA. 2014. ISBN 9780778316565 (paperback), 362p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, October 27, 2014

November Cozies from Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

This month, we have a few holiday mysteries, some favorite authors, and just a short glimpse of Jinx, who was in the living room totally ignoring the filming until just the last minute. I hope you enjoy the books, the book chat, and Jinx.

The November book releases are:

Lethal Letters by Ellery Adams - 6th Books by the Bay mystery
Mrs. Jeffries and the Merry Gentlemen by Emily Brightwell - 32nd Victorian mystery
The Chocolate Book Bandit by JoAnna Carl - 13th Chocoholic mystery
A High-End Finish by Kate Carlisle - 1st Fixer-Upper mystery
Snow White Red-Handed by Maia Chance - 1st Fairy Tale Fatal mystery
No Mallets Intended by Victoria Hamilton - 4th Vintage Kitchen mystery
For Better or Worsted by Betty Hechtman - 8th Crochet mystery
Mulled Murder by Kate Kingsbury - 21st Pennyfoot Hotel mystery
On Borrowed Time by Jenn McKinlay - 5th Library Lover's mystery
Plagued by Quilt by Molly MacRae - 4th Haunted Yarn Shop mystery
Suede to Rest by Diane Vallere - 1st Material Witness mystery
A Dog Gone Murder by Elaine Viets - 10th Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper mystery

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Haunting is Brewing by Juliet Blackwell

I very seldom review eBooks. I consider myself a librarian first and a blogger/reviewer second, which means I want everyone to have access to the books I review. Once in a while, though, when something that I want to read is only available as an eBook, I'll make an exception. Juliet Blackwell's A Haunting is Brewing was worth that exception. Blackwell's novella brings together the amateur sleuths from both of her series, the Witchcraft mysteries, and the Haunted Home Renovation series. I didn't want to miss the first meeting of Lily Ivory and Mel Turner.

Mel's the general manager for her family business, Turner Construction. She has a hard time saying no when a project involves an historic house and at-risk youth. She's regretting that as she hurries to complete the work on the Spooner House, a run-down Victorian mansion. But, it needs to be up to code in time for the Halloween ball to raise money to continue to maintain the house.

There's one major problem with the Spooner House, though. Mel, who can sense the presence of ghosts, and talk with them, finds the Spooner dolls extremely creepy. Thaddeus Spooner inherited a fortune, and went on to become a famous doll maker. But, he created a life size family of dolls in the likeness of his own family before everyone but his son died. Did they die of the flu or did the son murder them? If one of the student volunteers hadn't been found dead in the house, Mel might not have worried about it. But, now he's one more ghost she can talk to, and she isn't convinced he committed suicide.

When Maya, one of the volunteers, recognizes Mel's frustration that she can't help the deceased man, Maya introduces Mel to her boss at Aunt Cora's Closet. Lily Ivory not only owns the vintage clothing store, she's a witch. She's convinced that she and Mel can restore peace to the house, and, hopefully, find a killer. The skeptical Mel, who only learned recently that she can talk to ghosts, now has to accept the idea of witches, voodoo, and poppets, puppets with a spirit in them.

Juliet Blackwell has always made the paranormal seem acceptable and understandable in both of her series. With two characters with similar interests in the supernatural working in the same neighborhood in San Francisco, it seems logical that Blackwell would take the next step and introduce Lily and Mel. And, it works beautifully. Readers who like either series will welcome the budding friendship between the two characters.

I'm sure the world of historic house renovation and vintage clothing will not collide often. And, the Witchcraft series is often darker than the Haunted Home Renovation one, as Lily struggles with past history, hers and the history of witches. But, every now and then, it would be a treat to see Mel, Lily, and Oscar together. Lily's historical knowledge and Mel's ability to communicate with ghosts makes these stories even more interesting. And, how can anyone resist Oscar's charm?

And, maybe it's appropriate that a friendship between a witch and "an up-and-coming ghost hunter" should begin in the ether. It's just too bad that only eBook readers can appreciate Blackwell's enjoyable story, A Haunting is Brewing.

Juliet Blackwell's website is

A Haunting is Brewing by Juliet Blackwell. InterMix Books (Penguin Group), 2014. ISBN 9780698181922 (eBook).

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson

Walt Longmire, Craig Johnson's sheriff from Absaroka County in Wyoming, made his first short story appearance in, "Old Indian Trick" about ten years ago. That story went on to win the Cowboys & Indians Tony Hillerman award. Johnson sent it in a Christmas newsletter that year, then learned the following year that subscribers were waiting for the next Walt Longmire Christmas story. What's a writer to do? He went on to write eleven more short stories, now released as Wait for Signs.

There are Christmas settings, a Memorial Day one, a New Year's story, and ordinary stories of not-so-ordinary occurrences in the life of a Wyoming sheriff. As Johnson says in his Acknowledgements, some are mysteries; some of the stories have some mysterious elements; and some have none. In other words, these are typical Craig Johnson, and Walt Longmire, stories. Lou Diamond Phillips, who played Henry Standing Bear in the television show Longmire, points out the difficulty in creating characters, settings and a plot, and making them come together in an absorbing short story. Craig Johnson succeeds beautifully in every one of the stories in this collection.

Those of us who read the books, or watched the television series, will welcome Walt, along with the appearance of familiar characters - Henry Standing Bear, Vic, Dog, Cady, Lucian Connally, And, there are familiar symbols and stories, such as the owls, and Walt's Christmas connection with Dickens' A Christmas Carol. There's the trademark wry humor, along with the kindness. Although Johnson says "Walt is kind, decent, caring", there's that same kindness in Henry. And, there's a darkness in both men as well, a loneliness at times. It makes both of them human, not super-human.

Wait for Signs should be added to so many collections. Consider it as a gift for those who love, and miss, Westerns. It's a perfect companion to Johnson's Spirit of Steamboat. I'm buying a copy for myself to keep with my favorite Christmas books, even though not all the stories are set at Christmastime. It's for all of us who want to know what Walt Longmire is up to in between his larger adventures. And, it's for all of us who love Craig Johnson's beautiful writing, his stories about Walt and his friends. In fact, Craig Johnson's Wait for Signs is just right, for so many reasons.

(And, on a non-book related note, Wait for Signs could also be a banner of hope for all of us who have tweeted, hoping a network would pick up Longmire. This book is for all of us who regret the loss of one of the best shows on television. For all those who support it, #LongLiveLongmire.)

Craig Johnson's website is

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson. Viking. 2014. ISBN 9780523427919 (hardcover), 183p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, October 24, 2014

Winners and a Humorous British Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Lisa W. from Rochester, IN won Kathy Aarons' Death is Like a Box of Chocolates. Mary Kennedy's Nightmares Can Be Murder will go to Barbara H. from OBrien, OR. I'll mail them today.

This week, I have two fun British mysteries to give away. Wouldn't It Be Deadly by D.E. Ireland is the first book in a new series featuring Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins. If they don't find the real killer of Higgins' rival and Eliza's employer, Professor Henry Higgins could go to prison. He's the chief suspect after he made a scene and put an outrageous article in the newspaper, one that told the truth.

If you missed the earlier giveaway, I have a copy of Agatha Raisin's 25th adventure, M.C. Beaton's The Blood of an Englishman. Agatha Raisin hates amateur dramatics, but the neighborhood version of Babes in the Woods has its own drama when the local baker is murdered. The feuds and arguments behind the scenes soon prove that a number of people might have wanted Bert dead. On her way to solving the case, Agatha makes her usual almost fatal mistakes.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Wouldn't It Be Deadly" or "Win The Blood of an Englishman." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. This contest will end one day early, Wednesday, Oct. 29 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Combine urban fantasy and a police procedural, and I'm happy. Ben Aaronovitch's Midnight Riot is set in London, and it's a little reminiscent of Simon R Green's Nightside series. The creatures in Constable Peter Grant's world aren't quite as sick as those in John Taylor's London, but fans will want to try both. With the police procedural angle, along with some of London's history, I may prefer Aaronovitch.

Probationary Constable Peter Grant really wanted to be a detective with London's Metropolitan Police. But, it looked like he was on the fast-track to a paper pushing job. Then, one night, when he and another probationary constable find a body, Peter talks to a ghost. When Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale learns Grant can see ghosts, he recruits him for his mysterious one-man task force, a unit that handles crime involving supernatural creatures. And, it's just in time because all hell is about to break loose in London.

Strange murders, a feud between river gods, sexy daughters of the river, and crimes involving the theatre, Punch and Judy, and the opera. When Peter Grant gets sucked too far into the world of ghosts, he finds himself with just a few allies. And, some of those allies aren't very reliable.

Midnight Riot introduces a fascinating new sleuth, a police detective with an unusual background. Peter Grant's mother is from Sierra Leone. His father is a has-been jazz musician and a junkie. And, his background gives him a surprising independence for a rookie. Now, Grant is also an apprentice wizard at The Folly, the home of magic in London. It's an urban fantasy that combines the best of police procedurals, the tracking of criminals using hard work and learned knowledge. In Grant's case, that includes magic, an essential element of urban fantasy.

Looking for a gritty urban fantasy with humor, irony and a little history thrown in? Looking for an unusual detective? You might want to take a chance on the first in Ben Aaronovitch's series, Midnight Riot.

Ben Aaronovitch's website is

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch. Del Rey. ISBN 9780345524256 (paperback), 310p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cassandra King at the Southern Festival of Books

Cassandra King appeared at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville to discuss her book, The Same Sweet Girls' Guide to Life. She said they couldn't find her name tag when she arrived, so someone was running around with a badge that said "Cassandra King". She called it a metaphor for her life; she was never where she should be.

King thanked everyone was coming. She's been writing for twenty-some years. It still amazes her that people love reading enough to come out and hear writers. She thanked everyone for joining her to discuss the love of books and reading.

The book came about because King was asked to write the commencement speech for Wesleyan College in Georgia. Commencement speeches are usually boring. Since the college was a girls' school, she decided to talk about her friends, "the Same Sweet Girls". They met in college at a girls' school, and they were the inspiration for her third novel, The Same Sweet Girls. When she told her editor what she was doing, she said they wanted top publish it as a gift book. King had just arrived home from a book tour, and now she faced another book and another tour sooner than she expected. The Same Sweet Girls' Guide to Life: Advice from a Failed Southern Belle is her first nonfiction book.

Cassandra King was raised in Lower Alabama "LA" on a farm. Cassandra was the oldest of three girls, and her mother's fondest dream was that she'd be the perfect Southern lady, a Southern belle. King commented "Bless her heart. She failed miserably." Her mother wanted her oldest daughter to be the ideal daughter, a combination of Betty Crocker, Melanie Wilkes and Susanna Wesley (mother of John & Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist church). Cassandra had different ideas. She wanted to be Zelda Fitzgerald or Dorothy Parker, off the farm and out of the sticks.

King said she did have a blessed childhood. The family farm had been in the King family for generations. Her mother tried to make her into the perfect Southern lady. But, an event that happened when Cassandra was seventeen, a metaphor for the problem with the whole idea, should have told her mother that it wasn't going to work.

Cassandra King was Christmas queen for the town. She was excited, and could see herself on a float. But, the town was too small to have a float. Instead, they decorated the only convertible in town. In her green dress, King looked like Miss Scarlett after she re-did the curtains. She was sitting on the back seat in her crown, with her dress all spread out, waving to everyone. It was her mother's finest day. And, then the convertible made a quick stop, Cassandra fell over with her head down. Her hoop skirt went up, and she mooned the whole town. Hoop skirts were just not meant for her.

King's mother enrolled her in Methodist College in Montgomery, Alabama. But, Cassandra didn't want to go there. She had visited Alabama College outside Birmingham. It seemed to be more a place for aspiring writers. She talked her mother into letting her go there. And, then she arrived and found it was run like the girls' school it used to be. King felt she made a terrible mistake. The college had some of the prissiest girls she'd ever seen. This was the mid-sixties, and the girls were wearing matching cardigans and pearls. They could only wear dresses on campus. She thought, "I messed up." But she couldn't admit it and go home, so she decided to stick with it for one year. She doesn't own a dress to this day.

The Dean of Women terrified everyone. There was required convocation on Thursdays, and everyone had assigned seats. The dean watched them from above. And, then one Thursday there was a serendipitous event that changed King's life. That day, the National Maid of Cotton was the speaker. She told about her year representing Alabama and the U.S. When she said, I traveled the world, met the President, the Pope, and all kinds of people, but "I'm still the same sweet girl I've always been," Cassandra started laughing, and couldn't stop. Then, she noticed other girls laughing, too. Naturally, they all got in trouble, but they were all confined to the same dorm. So, King got to know the other girls who had been laughing. Whenever they saw each other, they'd ask, "Are you still the same sweet girl you've always been?"

Those girls became Cassandra King's lifelong friends. They still get together yearly. She won't say how old they are, but most of those "Same Sweet Girls" graduated in 1967. The relationships made in college can be some of our most important ones.

Cassandra King took a number of questions about her mother, her sisters, her father, and, finally, her husband, Pat Conroy. She said everyone asks her about living with him, and she said he's actually quite easygoing and funny, despite the tone of his books.

Cassandra King's website is

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Christmas Bouquet by Sherryl Woods

I think I've mentioned before that Sherryl Woods' Chesapeake Shores novels remind me of Nora Roberts' MacGregor family romances. One features an Irish American family, the O'Briens. The other features a Scottish-American family. But, they are both series featuring large supportive clans with a patriarch who enjoys seeing everyone in love. Woods' series just features a patriarch who interferes a little more than he should because he wants all of his extended family to be happy. The Christmas Bouquet, the eleventh in Woods' series is a typical romance featuring Mick O'Brien's interfering ways, troubles between a couple, and a happy ending. There's very little Christmas in the books, just a Christmas wedding reminder that leads to a wedding a year later. Even so, this is as satisfying as the other books by Woods.

Caitlyn Winters blames the wedding bouquet she caught for all of her problems. Soon after the O'Brien family wedding, she met family medicine resident Noah McIlroy, fell hard for him, and now she's facing an unexpected pregnancy. While Noah is overjoyed, Caitlyn is upset, angry, frustrated. A pregnancy will disrupt all of her carefully laid plans for her life - med school, internship, residency, and then off to Africa to save children, one village at a time. How can she move to Africa if she has a husband and baby in Maryland? How does she tell her O'Brien family that she, "the grounded, goal-oriented" twin, has a kink in her plans? And, she never even told her family about Noah.

As reluctant as Caitlyn is to reveal her condition to her family, Noah is just the opposite. While she fights tooth-and-nail to stick to the plan she designed, Noah is willing to compromise, understanding the importance of family, love, and compromise. While Caitlyn's grandfather, Mick, demands a wedding, and the O'Briens are eager for another marriage, Noah is patient and Caitlyn is stubborn. It will take a very patient man to wait for Caitlyn's decision.

The Chesapeake Shores novels are known for humor, strong family support, strong, independent women, and Mick's outrageous attempts to control his family. The Christmas Bouquet is one more enchanting story in the series. There are few surprises. It falls under Woods' formula for these books. But, it's a formula all of her readers enjoy. There's one more family to welcome home to Chesapeake Shores, a family home filled with love.

Sherryl Woods' website is

The Christmas Bouquet by Sherryl Woods. Harlequin MIRA. 2014. ISBN 9780778316626 (hardcover), 183p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Breast Cancer Alphabet by Madhulika Sikka

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. The greatest risk for developing breast cancer? Being a woman. Is there anyone who doesn't know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month? I'm sure Madhulika Sikka, executive producer of NPR's Morning Edition was aware of that month before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. But, she wasn't aware of all the little things that go hand-in-hand with that diagnosis. That's were her book comes in, A Breast Cancer Alphabet.

With her opening and closure, Madhulika Sikka illustrates that anyone can be diagnosed with breast cancer. There she is, at the White House, when she receives her news. And, a year later, there she is again, after going through everything involved in that diagnosis. Sikka is a reluctant member of the pink ribbon club. She says right out loud, "It sucks to get cancer." And, she takes readers through all kinds of subjects that aren't usually discussed. "A is for Anxiety." Sikka says there's nothing like all the fear and anxiety that comes with diagnosis, and gives women the permission to be anxious. Why are women always expected to be strong, to be warriors in a fight? She doesn't talk about nutrition or fighting through the pain. She talks about pain, and not ever being hungry, the need for pillows. She's brutally honest about going bald, and wanting to look better despite everything a woman goes through during chemo. And, she's honest about the days when she just couldn't force herself to get out of bed. And, she says it's all OK.

Sikka's book is an absorbing warning, a look into the world of a breast cancer victim. The author manages to add traces of humor, but the best part of the book is the honesty. And, each chapter, each letter of A Breast Cancer Alphabet, is short, informative, and comforting in that honesty. I do wish, though, that I could show you the stunning illustrations by Roberto de Vicq de Cumpitch. They truly illustrate Madhulika Sikka's words.

I do have one problem with this book. When do you give this informative book to someone? Do you give it to every woman you know in October? Do you wait until someone is diagnosed, and they're too stunned to care? Or mid-way through a year, when they can see themselves on these pages? Madhulika Sikka's A Breast Cancer Alphabet would be a valuable gift. What is the etiquette of passing this on?

Madhulika Sikka's website is

A Breast Cancer Alphabet by Madhulika Sikka. Crown Publishers. 2014. ISBN 9780385348515 (hardcover), 209p. (Also available as an ebook and on audio from Random House.)

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mr. Miracle by Debbie Macomber

Debbie Macomber's Christmas novels are staples of the Hallmark Channel. So, now you know all about this year's book. It's a romance, ends happily, and it's set at Christmas time.Mr. Miracle introduces a new angel, a friend of Macomber's other angels, Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy. But, honestly? It's just another Christmas novel with nothing remarkable about this one.

Harry Mills is an angel who has been sent to a Pacific Northwest community on a trial mission. He's teaching at Southshore Community College, where he's supposed to assist an insecure student returning to take one class. His mentor, Celeste, warns him though that he's to obey the rules at the college, and try to avoid the college president while working with Addie Folsom. Addie is dyslexic, and is finally returning to college, hoping to continue on and work in the medical field like her late father. But, Harry's charge has a few problems. She's stubborn, and has a long history with her neighbor, Erich Simmons. Harry's job is to assist Addie, in school, and in her personal life.

Needless to say, Harry has a few problems with his assignment. He's not prepared to deal with human emotions of anger, embarrassment, sexual attraction. And, he's not quite as competent with his assignment of Addie as he thought he would be. He needs that mentor because he overestimated his own abilities.

Macomber does do something a little different with Mr. Miracle. Because Harry is teaching English, he assigns his students to read Dickens' A Christmas Carol. And, she uses the story as a message about change.

Saying Debbie Macomber's Mr. Miracle is just an ordinary Christmas novel isn't a disparaging comment. Instead, it creates the atmosphere we expect, and appreciate, in Christmas stories. Addie's feelings about the holiday actually perfectly expresses what readers expect of most Christmas novels. She considered "...the holidays an extra-special time of year. Magic hung in the air, and people were gentler, kinder to one another. Differences are set aside, friendships deepened, and people in general were more charitable and happier." Mr. Miracle just wasn't quite as magical as I had hoped.

Debbie Macomber's website is

Mr. Miracle by Debbie Macomber. Ballantine Books. 2014. ISBN 978055391152 (hardcover), 255p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sons of Sparta by Jeffrey Siger

Some of Jeffrey Siger's mysteries expose the underside of Greek life and politics. Although there are some political elements to his latest novel, Sons of Sparta, this is a story that emphasizes Greek family life and connections. And, for a change, the emphasis is not on Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis. His assistant, Detective Yianni Kouros, is the focus of a family story with a legendary past.

Kouros' family has a violent, criminal past in the mountainous Peloponnese where the people, the Mani, say they are descendants of the ancient warriors, the Spartans. The Mani have a history as pirates, highwaymen, and warriors. But, they may be best known for the blood feuds, the vendettas against other families. And, when Kouros' uncle, the shrewd head of the family, and a retired criminal, dies unexpectedly before he can sign the paperwork for a lucrative deal, Kouros fears his cousins will start a war to avenge his death. And, Kouros, an honest cop, knows that family supports family. Kaldis may be caught up in an investigation involving land deals in Crete, but he certainly doesn't want powerful families going to war in the Peloponnese.

With Siger's insider's knowledge of Greece, his mysteries are always fascinating exposés of life, crime, and politics. Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis, along with Kouros, and Kaldis' best friend and mentor, Tassos Stamatos, are a formidable team. They are shrewd, powerful men who work the system beautifully, pulling strings while manipulating criminals and crooked politicians to provide answers. This triumvirate actually only yields to the women in their lives, Kaldis' wife, and Tassos' girlfriend, Maggie, who is also Andreas' secretary, office manager, and the most powerful behind-the-scenes person in the police department. 

Siger always manages to beautifully combine a police procedural with some of that black humor that allows police to get through the daily grind of dealing with corruption and crime. Although he's been known to almost predict the next Greek crisis, in this case, Siger's story of crime and corruption has a much more personal angle. The story of the Mani, descendants of the Spartans, and those formidable Spartan mothers, is a fascinating story of lawlessness and revenge. Siger's Sons of Sparta brings that story into the twenty-first century with a powerful mystery of family, murder, and vengeance.

Jeffrey Siger's website is, and he can also be found at

Sons of Sparta by Jeffrey Siger. Poisoned Pen Press. 2014. ISBN 9781464203145 (hardcover), 254p. (Also available as trade paperback, large print, and ebook)

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Cozy Debut Series Giveaway

I'm giving away two terrific mysteries this week, books that kicked off new series. Good luck!

Death is Like a Box of Chocolates is the first Chocolate Covered mystery by Kathy Aarons. Chocolates and Chapters is a combination bookstore and chocolate shop owned by best friends Michelle Serranno and Erica Russell. But, the success of their business is threatened when a photographer is found murdered, poisoned by one of Michelle's signature truffles. With Michelle at the top of the suspect list, the two must pick through the suspects before their business melts away.

Or, you could win Mary Kennedy's Nightmares Can Be Murder. Have you ever heard of a dream club, a club where members get together to discuss their dreams? Taylor Blake is a little skeptical about her sister Alison's dream club and their interpretations. But, when one of the dreams resembles the murder of a local dance club instructor, and Alison had a relationship with him, this dream starts to become a nightmare.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Box of Chocolates" or "Win Nightmares Can Be Murder." Please include your name and mailing address. The contest will end next Thursday, Oct. 23 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Christina Baker Kline at the Southern Festival of Books

I really shouldn't lead off my occasional recaps of the Southern Festival of Books with Christina Baker Kline even though she was the first author I saw there. She also had one of the best presentations I saw in the three days. The author of Orphan Train showed us some heartbreaking slides, and told us fascinating stories of history.

Orphan Train is the #1 book club book in the country. Kline has been a novelist for 20+ years, and this was her fifth novel. She has always been traditionally published, always a midlist author with her first four books. She thought her life was great. She had reasonable advances. She worked as a professor, and edited manuscripts, as so many authors do. The success of Orphan Train came as a shock to her. It took everyone by surprise; Kline, her editor, her publisher, HarperCollins.

Why was this book such a success? It's her same voice. Why did it hit a chord with readers?

Kline found incredible archival documents and photos about the history of the orphan trains. And, she showed us some of these photos telling the stories of these children. 250,000 children were sent from the East Coast to the Midwest between 1854 and 1929. This was the largest single migration of children in U.S. history, hidden in plain sight. Why does Kline say "hidden in plain sight"? There are twenty books with this same title, Orphan Train, and yet the vast majority of people never heard of this movement.

Kline's book is a novel, not nonfiction. It's the story of a ninety-one-year-old woman, a wealthy woman living in Maine whose hidden history was as a train rider. It's also the story of a seventeen-year-old girl, a foster child, Goth. She steals a book from the library, and, after being caught, is assigned community service or she'll end up in juvenile detention. She's assigned fifty hours cleaning out the attic of the wealthy woman. She's hostile at first. And, then they find they have a lot in common. The book takes place in the present, first person narrative of the ninety-year-old woman. The seventeen-year-old is part Penobscot Indian and part white.

Before continuing the program, Christina Baker Kline asked that people not ask questions with spoilers in them at the end of the presentation. She said on her web page,, she has the top ten questions that book clubs ask, so she probably answered those spoiler questions there.

Kline said she has a family connection to the train riders. The children were from ages two to fourteen. She and her family were visiting her in-laws in North Dakota, and her mother-in-law pulled out a family album. In it, there was a newspaper article about five kids. The oldest one was fifteen, so he had to get off the train and get a job. He was too old for the orphan train. That oldest child was the father of Kline's mother-in-law. The others were her uncle and her three aunts. None of them had told any of the family about their story. There are over 3 million descendants of those 250,000 train riders who rode over seventy-five years.

Kline found a vast amount of resources, but she was afraid to take on the story. However, she gathered files about the stories.

How did the orphan trains come about? In 1853, a Methodist minister, a reformer, Charles Loring Brace realized there were 30,000 kids living on the streets. Poor children were labor. Immigrants were pouring into the city. The Irish were particularly vulnerable. While other ethnic groups would come over as families, due to the potato famine and the English, the Irish were so destitute and persecuted they could only send one or two family members at a time, not whole families. There were large numbers of Irish children on the streets. Brace's Children's Aid Society's orphanage was soon overrun. Brace looked to the bucolic Midwest farms. Sending children to the Midwest was a work program from the very beginning. Future laborers were sent where there was a demand. Notices were placed in Midwestern newspapers saying children would be arriving, and farmers would come. Children were chosen by whoever wanted them.

When Christina Baker Kline showed us photos of the children, she showed pictures of working children in New York City. Boys became boot blacks or newsies. And, they joined gangs for protection. Girls were seamstresses or took care of children. The orphan trains were work programs. The aid societies only sent desirable children with no problems. The children were between the ages of 2 and 14. Then, they were indentured until they were 18-21. Scrappy boys were desirable as farm workers, but at that age, they were often doomed to be trouble.

The orphan trains carried children numbering in the tens to thirties at a time. Kline wondered who was paying to put those children on trains. Someone was subsidizing the movement of children.

The orphan trains ended in 1929. Why? With the Depression, there were even more kids in dire straits. Roosevelt's plans that helped the poor started later, 1939 and 1940. Why end the program in 1929?

In 1854, the railroads were expanding across country in places where no one lived. They needed bodies in those areas. They gambled that kids would stay in the Midwest and not return to New York. The vast majority of the kids not only stayed in the state where they were sent, they also stayed in the same town. By sending kids to these places, they provided labor for farmers, populating the empty spaces. The railroads paid for the orphan trains. In 1929, they built the last depot, and then they stopped paying.

There are fewer than ten train riders still left. Kline went through over 300 archives. Train riders were interviewed. She spoke to seven living train riders.

Not everyone was in favor of the program. There were backlashes in the Midwest. Newspapers ran articles saying stop sending us our garbage, your riffraff. Brace had hoped to get heathen children, Catholic children and others, into good Christian Protestant homes. He hoped that the shipment of children would lead to adoption, but it usually didn't. Farmers plucked out boys to work the farm. But the rest of the family didn't want them inheriting the land. Often they didn't tell the neighbors they took in a train rider. There was a stigma to it.

Why did the children never leave town? Once they were picked out from the platform, they never again saw another kid who rode the train with them. And, they thought the train they were on was the only one. They were given a new outfit, and told to forget about their old life. It was over, and there new life was here. When they arrived at the depot, they were lined up by height on a platform. The platforms resembled slave auctions, and people checked their teeth and bodies. Some of the children took the place of slave labor, slaves who had been freed during the Civil War. The war was over, but labor was still needed. And, the children were indentured until they reached the ages of 18 to 21.

Although Christina Baker Kline could have showed us more slides, unfortunately her time was up. But, she did show us a map of where the children went, actually all over the country. I checked out some of the states where I lived. There were very few in Ohio; none in Arizona, and 3,555 train riders ended up in Indiana.

And, she ended with a little humor. She said remember how she said there was a family connection. Irish children were often sent, including her sons' great-grandfather and his siblings. Even then, there was a stigma against the Irish and redheads. There were always superstitions surrounding redheads; their quick temper, that they were trouble. And, the final slide was of Christina Baker Kline's two oldest sons, college-age young men who are definitely redheads.

Christina Baker Kline's website is

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. HarperCollins. 2013. ISBN 9780061950728 (paperback), 278p.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dean Koontz and His Dog, Anna

I think Dean Koontz was a little jealous of all the attention his dog, Anna, received the other day. He sent a follow-up piece, an interview he did with Anna. And, since all the proceeds for the book Ask Anna goes to Canine Companions for Independence, I'm more than happy to share the interview. So, welcome, Anna and Dean!

1) Dean interviews Anna

Dean: Hey, sweetie, how does it feel to see your first book, Ask Anna, in print?

Anna: Better than a bee stinging me on the nose, maybe not as good as being given a membership in the Sausage-of-the-Month Club. I'm a little worried about the celebrity thing, so I've ordered a custom disguise that makes me look like a poodle.

Dean:  When did you first realize you had the Dear Abby gene and could give meaningful advice?

Anna: Remember a year ago, Dad, when you went shopping and came home with those hideous shoes? I just had to pee in them to prevent you from being seen wearing them in public. You went out and bought another pair of the same, and I peed in those, and you decided to take my advice. I realized then that I had something to offer that might help people and dogs. I don't mean pee. I mean common-sense advice. Who in the world makes lemon-yellow patent-leather platform shoes, anyway?

Dean: Never mind. I was flashing back to my disco days. Now that you have written a book of advice for dogs, might you write advice for some other species?

Anna: Cats need a lot of help, but they don't take advice well. You never know when they'll respond to a friendly suggestion by clawing your nose. Offering counsel to cats is like being the psychiatrist for Tony Soprano.

Dean: There's an article in your book that reveals how people like Noah and Albert Einstein changed history by listening carefully to their dogs' advice. Are you aware of any more recent famous people who failed to heed the advice of their dogs?

Anna: Tragically, yes. Mr. Johnny Depp's dog warned him not to play Tonto.

Dean: Is there any down side to a dog being a successful author?

Anna: Carpal-tunnel paw. Hollywood wanting to buy the film rights and recast me as a gerbil to be played by Adam Sandler in a furry suit. Perhaps a catty review here and there. Static electricity from the computer screen standing my fur on end, so that for hours at a time I go around looking as if I stuck my tongue in a wall plug.

And, Anna even gets to turn the tables on her father and ask him some questions.

2. Anna interviews Dean

Anna: Hey, Dad, what's it like having to share the limelight with me now that I'm a published author?

Dean: I have no jealousy whatsoever. I hope you enjoy a career that is bigger than mine. And don't worry: I would never--never!-- put one of those annoying post-surgery cones around your head for no reason at all except envy or something. And I would never--never!--change your name to Pussycat and make you answer to it.

Anna: Good to know. Sometimes we go for a ride in the car and you let me drive, and then you insist on sticking your head out the window. Are you mocking me when you do that?

Dean: No, short stuff. It's fun! All the great smells!! My ears flapping in the breeze!!! People pointing and laughing!!!!

Anna: There are days when I worry that you have an identity problem. So you have a new novel coming out in January, Saint Odd, the last of the Odd Thomas novels. Is there a dog in it?

Dean: One. But he has just a walk-on part, a few pages, nothing more, and he's not a golden retriever.

Anna: Then I'll probably read the new John Grisham instead. Since my book is about advice, is there any advice I've given you that you're sorry you didn't take?

Dean: That incident with the angry ferret comes to mind. But they sewed the thumb back on nearly where it was before, and I can still hitchhike with it if I ever need to.

Anna: Hey, Dad, let me put the loop of my leash around your hand, and I'll take you for a walk.

Dean: Great! Can we go to the park? Can we? Can we? Will you throw the ball for me? Better yet, the stick! Will you throw the stick?!?

(I think Anna's right. Dean may have an identity problem. But, there's no problem in identifying their book for you. All of the author proceeds of Ask Anna will go to Canine Companions for Independence. Anna and her friends, along with her advice, can be seen on Facebook at

Ask Anna: Advice for the Furry and Forlorn by Dean Koontz and his dog, Anna. Center Street. 2014. ISBN 9781455530793 (hardcover), 96p.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Stirring the Plot by Daryl Wood Gerber

Food, books, and a town's Halloween celebration. Daryl Wood Gerber's Stirring the Plot sounds light and seasonal. But, she never forgets that murder is serious, and the owners of The Cookbook Nook are determined to find justice for a lost friend.

All of Crystal Cove, California celebrates Halloween. The Winsome Witches, a charitable group of women, use the celebrations to raise money for literacy, culminating in a fund-raiser luncheon. However, Jenna Hart, owner of The Cookbook Nook, notices that some of her Aunt Vera's friends seem a little snappy. But, the luncheon is successful and the women end up at the High Priestess' house afterward to toast their success. Unfortunately, Pearl's party is disrupted by her angry daughter, Trisha, who makes a scene, saying hateful things about her mother. And, then the next day, three of the Winsome Witches, including Jenna's Aunt Vera, find Pearl dead.

With an excellent police chief, Cinnamon Pritchett, the Winsome Witches should let her solve the crime. But, Aunt Vera is convinced she lost her psychic powers after Pearl's death, and, in order to get them back, she needs to find the killer. Jenna fears she herself may have brought bad karma to the town. And, she wants to support her aunt.

Daryl Wood Gerber excels in the description of Crystal Cove and its Halloween celebrations. The town, the bookstore and all of the other shops are beautiful participants in the season. Halloween is truly celebrated in the book.

There does seem to be an extreme hysteria in the book. Aunt Vera fears her loss of power. Jenna is all over the town with her suspicions and her fear for her aunt. However, as I wrote this, I realized hysteria and witchcraft, even pretend witchcraft, go hand-in-hand. So, maybe it isn't so out of line for Stirring the Plot.

Although the feeling of hysteria bothered me, Stirring the Plot was delightful. It's about women who truly care for each other, and the search for answers to the death of one of them. At the same time, Gerber manages to incorporate Halloween, food, an excitement about books, and a touch of romance. It's a fun, seasonal treat.

Daryl Wood Gerber's website is

Stirring the Plot by Daryl Wood Gerber. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425258064 (paperback), 287p.

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Dean Koontz' Dog, Anna, Author and Advice Columnist

Dean Koontz' golden retriever, Anna, may have flunked out of Canine Companions for Independence training, but she has a generous heart. She's not only an advice columnist for dogs, but she's also donating the proceeds from her debut book to Canine Companions for Independence. That's the nonprofit organization that trains service dogs for people with disabilities. Along with Dean Koontz, Anna has written a charming coffee table book, Ask Anna. She provides advice to some of her furry friends as to how to live with humans. And, for those owners smart enough to read the book, some of those answers may help you live with your beloved pet.

Anna agreed to answer a few questions from some dogs, questions that might give us an idea as to how she handles providing advice. Anna's answers are often insightfull and humorous. Thank you, Anna.

1. Does your dad’s writing schedule ever conflict with your own?

Never. I have a way of always getting his attention when needed—it could be my good looks and winning personality but if I said that the poodle would say that the fame has started to go to my head.

2. I also know how hard it is to live with a thriller writer. Is Dean Koontz any easier to live with than my mom?

Good question! I don’t know because I haven’t lived with your mom but if you ever need dog advice, you know where I am.

3. How have your life experiences impacted your advice to others?

From avoiding the cat to helping tame my master, I’d say I draw on them a lot when advising others but rarely will I judge (unless you drink from a toilet…).

4. What type of human do you think would most enjoy the new “Ask Anna” book?

Owners that need to get a clue about what their dog really things about them…or those just needing to have a good laugh.

5. Any advice for the many dogs who live with authors?

It’s OK, they’ll get it eventually. Until then, let me hold your paw and we’ll get through this together! They’re bound to learn a thing or two from my new book so it will get easier.

Thanks for having me on your blog. Maybe one day we can meet up at the dog park and shake paws in-person!

You're welcome, Anna! Your new book, Ask Anna: Advice for the Furry and Forlorn, is delightful with all the photos of you and your dog friends. And, your advice is witty. Thank you for taking time to write. And, please thank Dean Koontz for working with you on this book.

If you'd like to see Anna and some of her friends, and read some of her advice, check out her page on Facebook, And, don't forget, all proceeds go to Canine Companions for Independence. (You'll have to read the book to discover why Anna flunked out of training.)

Ask Anna: Advice for the Furry and Forlorn by Dean Koontz and his dog, Anna. Center Street. 2014. ISBN 9781455530793 (hardcover), 96p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book so I could participate in the blog tour.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Time Out

Time out!

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm in Nashville for the Southern Festival of Books. I'm lucky enough to be staying with a friend at her brother's house, but there's no Internet, since the house is actually empty and for sale. (Sound familiar, Hank Phillippi Ryan? We actually have permission from the owner, though.)

So, hopefully, I'm hearing some terrific authors, and I should have some summaries and pictures next week. In the meantime, take a time out, and I'll be back with you on Monday.

Happy Weekend!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Stirring the Plot by Daryl Wood Gerber -- An Apology

I'm supposed to have a review of Daryl Wood Gerber's Stirring the Plot today, but I'm in Nashville for the Southern Festival of Books, with no Internet connection. I was reading a book a day to try to keep all my deadlines for this week, but I didn't have time for the final book.

Actually, that means Daryl will get a second spot here, as well as the mention of her book today. I owe her an actual review. There will be one. I'm sixty pages into it, and I'm enjoying all the Halloween elements. And, how can you not like a book with that gorgeous cover, set in a culinary bookshop?

So, here's the information if you want to buy the book now. Stirring the Plot by Daryl Wood Gerber. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425258064 (paperback), 287p.

And, there will be a review coming up early next week.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Ghost Wanted by Carolyn Hart

Carolyn Hart's Bailey Ruth ghost novels are lighter than her other books, but they're still about righting wrongs. Bailey Ruth just does it in her own inimitable style, with compassion, flair, and an eye for romance. She's a ghost with a heart, and no more so than in Ghost Wanted when she hopes to help someone she's grown to admire during her time in Heaven, Wiggins.

Wiggins, who died in the early 1900s, heads Heaven's Department of Good Intentions, and he knows he shouldn't get involved, but he's worried about an old friend, Lorraine Marlow, so he sends Bailey Ruth to Adelaide, Oklahoma to check on her. After Lorraine died, she chose to remain on earth, haunting Adelaide's library as the Lady of the Roses who matched young people up when she left them roses. But, someone's nasty tricks have become fodder for the campus newspaper, and the editor is blaming Lorraine. Bailey Ruth's job is to help Lorraine, and find out who is ruining her reputation.

It isn't as simple as Wiggins thinks, though. In trying to trap the culprit responsible for the campus activities, Bailey Ruth witnesses a murder. She's soon partnered with Lorraine as they try to uncover a diabolical killer who has set up someone else to take the blame for theft and murder. It will take two strong women, even if they are dead, to gather the clues that will satisfy law enforcement, and right a few wrongs. And, while those two ghosts can bring together two young people, Bailey Ruth has to deal with the past history between two friends, Wiggins and Lorraine.

Carolyn Hart's Bailey Ruth always reminds me of Debbie Macomber's three angels, Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy. She's not quite as bumbling, but she is certainly a free spirit. She may try to observe all of Wiggins' precepts for the emissaries from the Department of Good Intentions, but that's the problem with Bailey Ruth. She always has good intentions.

Hart's series is full of ghosts with good intentions, plans to help people here on earth. Bailey Ruth may be a little too absorbed in her appearance, her clothing and red hair, but it's part of the fun of the books, and the character. This time, she isn't the only ghost whose intentions go slightly awry. Even Wiggins has trouble, with his heart and mind off of normal business. Ghost Wanted finally fills in Wiggins' history for all of us who have been faithful readers.

If you like a little romance, a little humor, and a paranormal touch to your mysteries, check out Carolyn Hart's charming Ghost Wanted. Bailey Ruth is a ghost with a heart, and a nose for trouble.

Carolyn Hart's website is

Ghost Wanted by Carolyn Hart. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425266151 (hardcover), 292p.

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

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Bless Her Dead Little Heart by Miranda James

It was a brilliant idea to spin off Miranda James' popular Cat in the Stacks mysteries. James even makes readers feel at home by including familiar characters. Although the new Southern Ladies mysteries revolve around Miss An'gel and Miss Dickce Ducote, Charlie Harris' Maine Coon cat, Diesel, and Athena, Mississippi's Chief Deputy, Kanesha Berry, are prominently featured in Bless Her Dead Little Heart. It's southern comfort of the non-alcoholic sort with this new series.

And, it's southern hospitality that gets the two octogenarian sisters into trouble. It's the lazy days of summer, and Miss An'gel and Miss Dickce are catsitting for Diesel. There's nothing else planned, so it comes as a surprise when their old sorority sister Rosabelle Sultan shows up, begging for sanctuary, saying someone in her family is trying to kill her. Rosabelle is an unwelcome guest, but Miss An'gel can't turn away a sorority sister in need. But, as Rosabelle's entire family shows up, following the matriarch who controls the purse strings, the two sisters begin to wish they hadn't been quite so hospitable. And, when one of the family ends up dead, they truly regret allowing strangers to have the run of their home.

Miss An'gel and Miss Dickce are wonderful amateur sleuths, who definitely have a reason to snoop. Miss An'gel "wanted the murder solved and these people out of her house as soon as possible". And, the two sisters are fun, competitive as any two sisters, while allies against Rosabelle's family. They are keenly observant of the family dynamics, watching for clues leading to a killer. And, then there's Diesel, a wonderful character himself, with his chirps and his instincts for people. But, James, wisely, introduces a couple surprises for future books.

James' characters are perfect. And, the author's use of southern expressions adds to the enjoyment. Take Rosabelle's family. "They didn't have the manners the good Lord gave a billy goat." Miss An'gel and Miss Dickce are the doyennes of Athena, Mississippi. And, now, they're the doyennes of Southern cozy mysteries. Bless Her Dead Little Heart kicks off a charming series with humor and heart.

Miranda James can be found at

Bless Her Dead Little Heart by Miranda James. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425273043 (paperback), 289p.

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

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek by Terry Shames

October is proving to be just as spectacular as I thought with outstanding mysteries from Betty Webb, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and now Terry Shames. Shames brings back that thoughtful retired police chief, Samuel Craddock, in her latest, Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek. I tend to think of her books, along with those from other authors such as Craig Johnson, Bill Crider, and Steven F. Havill, as western mysteries. They all feature lawmen dealing with contemporary issues and crimes.

The town of Jarrett Creek, Texas can't afford to keep Craddock in retirement. In fact, they are so broke, they can't afford to pay for more than two part-time officers. The new mayor has a plan, though, to ask Craddock to work as police chief for $1 a year. And, the very night of the meeting to discuss it, Gary Dellmore is murdered behind the American Legion hall. As Craddock asks questions, he discovers there are a number of people who might have wanted to kill Dellmore. He was self-important, the son of the owner of the local bank. He had a roving eye. And, the more Craddock digs, the more he finds out about the business scandal that sunk Jarrett Creek. It seems Gary Dellmore had a hand in that as well.

Like every police officer in a small community, Samuel Craddock can't focus his attention on just the murder. There are stolen cars and break-ins, the failed business investment, and a man stalking his ex-wife. And, there's all that gossip of a small community that needs to be listened to if a smart lawman wants to uncover the town's secrets. Craddock, the best police chief Jarrett Creek ever had, knows to listen as people spread rumors, discussing cheating spouses and people whose businesses aren't where they were a few years ago.

Shames introduced Samuel Craddock in her first mystery, A Killing in Cotton Hill. Samuel Craddock remains her greatest accomplishment. He's a methodical, quiet man who tends to keep his private life private after the death of his wife. And, he surprises people. He owns a small herd of cattle, and an impressive modern art collection. He's a lawman who listens, asking questions, and gathering the facts until they lead to a killer, sometimes a surprising one in a small community.

For those of us who appreciate police procedurals that uncover the truths and secrets of a small town, Terry Shames' Samuel Craddock is a treasure. And, Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek only adds to his legend.

Terry Shames' website is

Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek by Terry Shames. Seventh Street Books. 2014. ISBN 9781616149963 (paperback), 266p.

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

Monday, October 06, 2014

Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan

When Hank Phillippi Ryan sets out to weave a story of suspense, you can bet it will become a gorgeous tapestry of deception, lies, and fascinating characters, with snippets of the truth. All those elements come together beautifully in her latest novel, Truth Be Told.

Reporter Jane Ryland is now the only reporter assigned to the Boston Register's new online video news department. She and TJ, the new videographer, are filming a recently foreclosed house as part of the ongoing story about the housing crisis, watching the sheriff's department empty the contents. Jane finds it disturbing, but it's even more disturbing when there's a flurry of activity, and, along with an ambulance, Homicide Detective Jake Brogan shows up. Now, there's an added element to Jane's story. It's the second foreclosed house with a body in it.

Jake is relieved to turn that investigation over to someone else when he becomes involved in another case. An ex-con has turned himself in, claiming to be the Lilac Sunday killer, responsible for the murder of a seventeen-year-old girl twenty years earlier, a case that continues to haunt Boston, and the Brogans because Jake's grandfather was police commissioner at the time. But, something feels wrong about the confession, and Jake's afraid the man's confession may be a lie.

Lies, half-truths, half of a story. Everyplace Jane and Jake look, they're frustrated by the bits and pieces of the story. Their plans to be together are put on hold because of Jake's case, but, since they can't talk about their investigations with each other, it only leads to misunderstandings and hurt. And, it doesn't help that Peter Hardesty, an attorney, seems to be everywhere, involved in both of Jake's stories, and, maybe Jane's life.

Jane and Jake, with a little help from Hardesty, follow all the threads in this absorbing story, a story that intertwines the housing crisis, murder, a cold case, and family. Then there's the question; what is truth? Do we recognize truth when we see it, or has it been manipulated? How important is the truth? Law enforcement and the media may both have their own versions of "truth".

Once again, Hank Phillippi Ryan tells a unique, riveting story. The reader is compelled to follow all the various strands of story in a book with intriguing characters. How will Ryan manage to bring all those strands together; housing, banking, murders, and cold cases? Hank Phillippi Ryan is a skilled storyteller, deftly leading her characters and the reader to a surprising climax. And, while she weaves together all the best elements of a story; drama, intrigue, and those characters she writes so well, she continues to taunt us with those questions about truth, right to the last sentence. Truth Be Told is the finest novel yet from this amazing, award-winning storyteller.

Hank Phillippi Ryan's website is

Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Forge. 2014. ISBN 978065374936 (hardcover) 400p.

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

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Desert Rage by Betty Webb

When Betty Webb takes us into Lena Jones' Arizona world, the mysteries are always powerful and disturbing. They blend Lena's own past and her passion for the truth, with a violent contemporary crime in today's Arizona. Desert Rage may be Webb's best so far.

The police had already wrapped up the case involving the slaying of the Cameron family by the time Lena Jones from Desert Investigations is called in to reexamine the evidence. A Scottsdale doctor, his wife, and his ten-year-old son were brutally beaten and killed. His fourteen-year-old daughter, Ali, and her boyfriend, Kyle, have confessed to the crime. But, U.S. Representative Juliana Thorsson wants Lena to keep digging. When pressed, she admits she's actually Ali's biological mother. Thorsson may be an ambitious political candidate, but, she has secrets that could destroy her political career. However, she wants the true killer brought to justice. She's convinced her daughter isn't a killer.

With her own troubled childhood, Lena can understand the two teens, and doubts that they were capable of committing the heinous murders. Together with her business partner, Pima Indian Jimmy Sisiwan, Lena searches for answers in the Cameron family's past. It's Jimmy who digs up an unusual clue that may lead to the killer. But, it's Lena's actions that threaten to destroy Desert Investigations, and endanger her life.

Webb's latest mystery succeeds on so many fronts. Once again, Lena's own mysterious past plays into the current case, and plays havoc with her life. Lena is a tough, determined investigator, but she still suffers from her troubled childhood, still longs for answers, and remains afraid to connect with people, or ask for help when she needs it. She wants to help two troubled teens, but remains unable to help, or get help, for herself.

Betty Webb herself mentioned that a secondary storyline almost took over the book. She's right, but, what a fascinating secondary storyline! She's an expert at misleading the reader, while providing clues, and a perfect ending. I can't say more without giving too much away, but any reader will admire the author's storytelling after finishing this book.

It becomes a cliche to say a story is ripped from the headlines, but Webb is so skilled in presenting a mystery that feels as if it was a nonfiction account of a murder and subsequent investigation. Every detail is perfect for this story. And, the story is realistic not only in the story of the crime and Lena's search for answers. Webb's Arizona setting is pitch-perfect. She knows every street, every town she describes in vivid detail. The hot, dusty Arizona climate is perfect for creating the atmosphere of Desert Rage.

Betty Webb has changed lives and laws with her Lena Jones mysteries before. Desert Rage isn't that type of story. But, in my opinion, it's her most powerful story yet, a riveting story of crime, and the search for truth.

Betty Webb's website is

Desert Rage by Betty Webb. Poisoned Pen Press. 2014. ISBN 9781464203107 (hardcover), 402p. (Also available in large prin, ebook, and trade paperback.)

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