Sunday, November 30, 2014

The World of PostSecret by Frank Warren

I knew it had been a few years since I had seen a PostSecret book, and then in the introduction to The World of PostSecret, Frank Warren said it had been five years since the last one.  It's been ten years and one million postcards since Warren started an experimental project. It's a project, books, and secrets that have spread throughout the world. And, Warren says it may be the last one for a project that generated museum exhibits, an app, a play, and raised over one million dollars for suicide prevention programs.

When I reviewed earlier PostSecret books, I commented that the books are enthralling versions of voyeurism. That's true, as readers get glimpses into the secrets that people have kept to themselves. Warren originally asked people to send in a postcard revealing a secret they had never told anyone else. While people did that, some were embarrassing secrets, some liberating, some painful, but many of the secrets brought people together. People answered each other, left secrets in books, and, when the app was active, reached out to help each other. All of those postcards meant people were reaching out to each other.

As Warren contemplates turning PostSecret over to someone else, he commented about his own secrets. He also introduced the mail carrier who brought so many of those postcards to his mailbox over the years. And, the man who has revealed so much of his own pain over the years, pain that led him to work suicide prevention hotlines, reveals what he discovered as he worked on this project. "I was building a safe community where anyone could reveal private truths because I needed to join and unburden myself."

Somewhere in all of these postcards you may find yourself, or someone you love. These are beautiful messages, postcards that reach out in trust.  I'll leave you with one of the messages on a postcard. "Nature and the library are the only two places in America where I don't feel judged as 'less than' because I am...quiet."

Frank Warren shares PostSecrets every Sunday at

The World of PostSecret by Frank Warren. William Morrow. 2014. ISBN 9780062339010 (hardcover), 288p.

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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Cinderella Murder by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke

Mary Higgins Clark's I've Got You Under My Skin introduced television producer Laurie Moran. Now, Clark joins with another bestselling author, Alafair Burke, for an ongoing series about Moran as she produces Under Suspicion, a show that investigates, and tries to solve cold cases. As a fan of cold case mysteries, I was hooked when I picked up The Cinderella Murder.

Moran, who lost her husband to a killer, understands the pain felt by a victim's family and friends. She's the perfect one to bring together a television show that recreates cases, hoping to finally find answers. Twenty years after Susan Dempsey, a nineteen-year-old college student, was found strangled in Laurel Canyon Park, her mother, Rosemary is still determined to find answers. So, she agrees to cooperate when Laurie wants to put together a show about the case the media called "The Cinderella Murder". Susan was a beautiful young actress whose body was found missing one shoe, an appealing scenario for headlines. Laurie Moran is sure the show will appeal to viewers. Who can resist a cold case involving a computer genius, the movie industry, and the "noir of Mulholland Drive"?

As Laurel and her team gather together the people who were once involved with Susan Dempsey, they hope to uncover clues that remained secrets twenty years earlier. But, Laurel's father, a former police officer with the New York Police Department, finds something odd about the death of Rosemary Dempsey's neighbor, and tags along on the trip to Los Angeles. In all the excitement of filming a show, the team tends to forget that a cold case means there may still be a killer out there who wants the murder to be forgotten.

Clark and Burke's first book together is a riveting story with multiple red herrings and suspects. In a show about a cold case, everyone involved earlier is "Under Suspicion". But, the authors are careful to handle not only the murder, but the pain felt by family members who are still desperate for answers. And, they've given us a protagonist, Laurel Moran, a victim herself, who understands that desperation. Hopefully, The Cinderella Murder will be the first in a string of hits for Clark and Burke, and the beginning of an ongoing search for more stories for Under Suspicion.

Mary Higgins Clark's website is
Alafair Burke's website is

The Cinderella Murder by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke. Simon & Schuster, 2014. ISBN 9781476763125 (hardcover), 303p.

FTC Full Disclosure - library book

Friday, November 28, 2014

Winners & A Holiday Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Bless Her Dead Little Heart by Miranda James will go to Sally S. from Antioch, CA. Hannah Reed's Off Kilter will go to Karen E. from Montgomery, AL. I'm mailing both books today.

This week, I'm giving away two holiday mysteries in a contest that will end a day early, Wed. Dec. 3.  Since I'll be giving away a copy of Cleo Coyle's latest book soon, I'm giving away an earlier one right now, an autographed ARC of Holiday Buzz. It's holiday time in New York City, but when the Great New York Cookie Swap ends with the death of a baker's assistant, Village Blend coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi vows to put the killer on ice.

A Midwinter's Tail is Sofie Kelly's Magical Cats mystery. The holiday season means everything is busy in Mayville Heights, and Kathleen Paulson is snowed under running her library and caring for her extraordinary cats, Owen and Hercules. When a guest at a library benefit drops dead, though, Kathleen, Owen and Hercules will be busy trying to solve a murder.

Which holiday mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Holiday Buzz" or "Win A Midwinter's Tail." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Wednesday, December 3 at 6 p.m. CT.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

P.D. James, R.I.P.

P.D. James, author of eighteen crime novels, including the mysteries featuring Commander Adam
Dalgliesh, died today in Oxford, England. She was 94.

I can't do justice to the death of one of the masters, an author who championed the mystery genre. Instead, here's the link to the New York Times article by Marilyn Stasio, But, no fan of the genre can ignore her death.

Rest in peace, P.D. James, Baroness James of Holland Park.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Today is one more day that I count my blessings, beginning with my family - my Mom, my two sisters, their families, and all of my extended family. I'm so lucky to have all of them.

I'm lucky to have a job in a library, and I've been lucky in my previous jobs in Ohio, Florida, and Arizona. I consider myself blessed with all the friends I made in those places. I'm blessed with all the friends I've made online, through my blog, and, with some, through their blogs. And, I had a wonderful college roommate, who remains a close friend. I give thanks for all my friends.

And, I don't feel funny giving thanks for my cats. They make me laugh. They cuddle and comfort.

I'm grateful for all the books I've received in the last year, and all the authors, publicists and publishers who send books, write blogs, share my love of books. Books are such an important part of my life. I'm thankful for the gift of books.

And, I'm thankful for all of you who read my blog, whether on a daily basis or once in a while. Thank you for being a blessing in my life. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow

When you think Little Golden Books, you might think of books for children. But, Diane Muldrow's Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book is for memories and the child in all of us. If you had Little Golden Books in your childhood, these illustrations will bring back memories.

The story itself is nothing special, a story that says you could be cranky about the holidays, but you'd miss all the joy of family and faith. But, it's all those wonderful pictures that will make you nostalgic. The illustrations are all footnoted, telling what book they originally appeared in, the author and the illustrator. If you grew up to read Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web or Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, Garth Williams was the illustrator. He also illustrated Little Golden Books. Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, wrote Little Golden Books. And, Richard Scarry's adorable animals appeared in those books.

If The Poky Little Puppy and The Gingerbread Man makes you nostalgic, Muldrow's Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book will make you smile.

Diane Muldrow's website is

Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow. 2014. ISBN 9780375973741 (hardcover).

Library book

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story

Next week, I'm doing one of my brown bag lunches, this one featuring holiday books. I picked up some nonfiction titles that would fit the theme, beginning with In the Dark Streets Shineth. The subtitle is A 1941 Christmas Eve Story. It's a story told by David McCullough, one he told on PBS at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's 2009 Christmas concert.

Less than a month after Pearl Harbor, during Christmas week, a visitor traveled secretly to Washington, D.C. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt hosted the Christmas Eve lighting of the National Christmas Tree, he welcomed and introduced his guest, Prime Minister Winston Churchill. McCullough's account includes the speeches the two leaders made, speeches about the need for light in a dark world. And, he also includes the stories of two Christmas songs. Churchill first heard "O Little Town of Bethlehem" on Christmas day when he went to church with Roosevelt. The other song is "I'll Be Home for Christmas", a song written in 1942, expressing the longing for home.

In the Dark Streets Shineth is a tiny book filled with history. The two speeches are included, the history of the songs, and pictures from the war years. The pictures reflect the Christmases of those years, just as the book reflects the spirit.

The book is now a few years old, and not easily available. But, you can always get a copy from a library. The book includes the dvd of the program itself. Honestly? I'm always sappy when it comes to those kind of shows based on actual history. David McCullough brings Christmas 1941, and the war years, to life.

In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story as told by David McCullough. Shadow Mountain. 2010. ISBN 9781606418314 (hardcover)

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Chat-December Releases from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

And, here they are - all fifteen titles covered today in the book chat. Jinx & I hope you enjoy them!

Murder, Served Simply - Isabella Alan - 3rd Amish Quilt Shop mystery
Keeper of the Castle - Juliet Blackwell - 5th Haunted Home Renovation mystery
Geared for the Grave - Duffy Brown - 1st Cycle Path mystery
Death With All the Trimmings - Lucy Burdette - 5th Key West Food Critic mystery
Eggs in a Casket - Laura Childs - 5th Cackleberry Club mystery (1st time in mass market)
Scorched Eggs - Laura Childs - 6th Cackleberry Club mystery (hardcover)
Mr. Monk is Open for Business - Hy Conrad - 18th Mr. Monk mystery
Inspector Spector - E.J. Cooperman - 6th Haunted Guesthouse mystery
Once Upon a Grind - Cleo Coyle - 14th Coffeehouse mystery (hardcover)
The Ghost and Mrs. Mewer - Krista Davis - 2nd Paws and Claws mystery
Aground on St. Thomas - Rebecca M. Hale - 3rd Mystery in the Islands
Spell Booked - Joyce & Jim Lavene - 1st Retired Witches mystery
Meow If It's Murder - T.C. LoTempio - 1st Nick & Nora mystery
Scandal at Six - Ann Purser - 13th Lois Meade mystery (1st time in mass market)
Suspicion at Seven - Ann Purser - 14th Lois Meade mystery (hardcover)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio

Sarah Jio follows the wonderful Goodnight June with another enchanting, magical novel, The Look of
Love. Once again, she brings us a story filled with love and tears. And, even if the subject is romance and love, the happily ever afters are not quite what everyone will expect.

The story begins in Paris in 1893 with a flower seller named Elodie, a woman with a gift for love. And, it's that gift that will change the lives of a long line of other green-eyed women. For her Christmas birthday in 2012, florist Jane Williams receives a letter, a letter that tells her she has a gift, but one that could turn into a curse if she's not careful. When Jane and her assistant, Lo, go to visit Colette Dubois, Jane find the woman's story somewhat unbelievable. Colette said she was present in the hospital on the day Jane was born, and she gave her a gift, "The gift of being able to see all of its truth and beauty." Elodie had been given the gift by a Gypsy, but it came with strings attached. The recipient must identify the six types of love, and write the accounts of them, before her thirtieth birthday, or she will never experience love herself.

Jane, who has always feared love, now fears she will never find it. As she watches her friends fall in and out of love, while she herself falls for a science writer who doesn't believe in love, she worries she will always be alone in the world.

Jio's latest novel is a contemporary story of love, loss, and, at times, sacrifice. The author sets the story in Seattle, a city that seems to appeal to romantics. In this case, a small community of friends goes through a challenging year of romance while Jane Williams tries to observe with a critical eye, one blurred by the vision of love. Jio's characters are appealing, and readers will want to know what happens to Jane and her friends. It's easy to fall into this book with its likable characters and variety of romantic scenarios. The Look of Love is another satisfying story, one that will bring tears and smiles, from an author who is adept at manipulating our emotions, and our hearts.

Sarah Jio's website is

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio. Plume. 2014. ISBN 9780142180532 (paperback), 286p.

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Plagued by Quilt by Molly MacRae

Molly MacRae brings back textile historian Kath Rutledge, her "posse" of knitters, and Geneva, a ghost, in an intriguing mystery that combines family, history, and a cold case. Plagued by Quilt takes readers to a historic farm in Blue Plum, Tennessee, where murder and death is part of the history.

Kath and her needlework group, TGIF (Thank Goodness It's Fiber), agreed to teach a workshop at the Holston Homeplace Living History Farm. But, their crazy quilt can't compete with Phillip Bell, the dramatic assistant director. And, even he can't compete when one of the students finds bones. Kath's thoughts immediately turn to Geneva, the ghost who lives with her, but doesn't remember much about her past. Thoughts of a cold case excite the members of TGIF. And, then someone kills a member of the staff at the farm.

While Kath is convinced the primary suspect didn't kill anyone, she's more interested in the cold case and a possible connection to Geneva. But, she's also worried about Ardis, the store manager of The Weaver's Cat. Ardis, a member of the posse, seems to have some unusual reactions when Geneva is around. Kath worries that all of her projects might unravel at the same moment.

Molly MacRae's latest mystery is filled with humor, often at the expense of a local deputy, Cole Dunbar. While Kath dates his brother, Joe, she is easily riled when it comes to dealing with Cole. But, the mystery is filled with heart as well as humor. Kath's actions are often driven by her concern for Geneva. And, all of Kath's friends are people with lives that do not always permit them to slip off to play amateur sleuth. In other words, they seem to be real people who have to take care of elderly fathers or work.

Kath Rutledge is my kind of amateur sleuth. She only hides things from the police because Cole Dunbar won't listen to her, and sometimes mocks her ideas, pushing her out of the way. And, when she sets a trap for a killer, she calls on her friends, and doesn't try to do it alone. But, she does believe in unraveling the stories that will lead to the truth. "Give me a puzzle and eccentric bits and pieces of information, and I want to make a pattern - a pattern that solves the puzzle."

Plagued by Quilt offers a few puzzles for Kath and the reader. There are secrets to discover about the bodies, the current murder victim, and Geneva's past. And, Kath is still learning about her inherited talents, including the ability to "brush up against someone's emotional state by brushing against a fabric they wore". It's a story offering family secrets, historical ones, ghosts and murder. In other words, Molly MacRae offers readers the chance to make a pattern from the puzzle and "eccentric bits and pieces of information" that she provides. Plagued by Quilt is a crazy quilt puzzle with heart.

Molly MacRae's website is

Plagued by Quilt by Molly MacRae. Obsidian. 2014. ISBN 9780451471307 (paperback), 342p.

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Winners and a "First" Giveaway

I didn't forget about you! My sister and I went to Nashville for a concert, and when I came back on Monday, I immediately headed to Indianapolis for a conference. I came back Wednesday to some leaks in my apartment, so there were some things to take care of. Time to get back to the blog.

Congratulations to the winners of the most recent contest. Donna Andrews' The Nightingale Before Christmas will go to Karen M. from San Bruno, CA. Susan M. of Montgomery, AL won Lea Wait's Shadows on a Maine Christmas. The books will go out today.

This week, I'm giving away two books that launch new series. Hannah Reed's Off Kilter will take a reader to the Scottish Highlands. After the death of her mother and end of her marriage, Eden Elliott headed to Glenkillen, Scotland, to do some hands-on-research for a novel. Instead, she finds herself doing hands-on-research to find the killer of the town's sheep shearer, a man that everyone seemed to like.

Even if you don't read Miranda James' Cat in the Stacks mysteries, you might want to enter to win Bless Her Dead Little Heart. It's the first Southern Ladies' mystery featuring the elderly Ducote sisters whose mistake in extending southern hospitality to an old sorority sister leads to a family invasion and murder.

This week is all about discovery. Would you like to head to Scotland or Mississippi? You can enter to win both books, but I need separate entries. Email me at  You subject heading should read either "Win Off-Kilter" or "Win Bless Her Dead Little Heart." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end next Thursday, Nov. 27 at 6 PM CT.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Taking a Break

Taking a break for a few days. My sister, Linda, came in yesterday. We're spending the weekend together, and heading to Nashville on Sunday to see Celtic Thunder's Christmas show with the Nashville Symphony.

This is a picture from 3 years ago. It's just as perfect today, and Linda still looks that great. Maybe
even better since she's retired and is more relaxed. But, it's perfect because, just like three years ago, she brought quiche that her husband made and wine. This time, though, she also brought Buckeyes and orange cookies. And, laughter. She brought laughter because we always laugh together.

Taking a break for family, laughter, and then a library conference.

I hope you have time for family, a good book or two, and laughter.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Winners and a Christmas Mystery Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. John B. from Grass Valley, CA won Hank Phillippi Ryan's Truth Be Told. Kelli Stanley's City of Ghosts is also returning to California. Barbara G. from Brea, CA will receive that book. They'll go out in the mail today.

It's not too early to send out a couple Christmas mysteries. It will give the winners time to read them before the holiday.  So, I'm giving some lucky winner a copy of Donna Andrews' latest Meg Langslow Christmas mystery, The Nightingale Before Christmas. When Mother volunteers to take part in a a big Christmas-themed decorator show house, she insists Meg pitch in with the organization. But, some of the rooms are sabotaged. And, when a designer turns up dead, Mother is the prime suspect. Can Meg catch the real killer in time to keep Mother from being arrested?

Or, you could win Lea Wait's Shadows on a Maine Christmas. Maggie Summer has decisions to make this Christmas. She's determined to adopt a little girl. The man she loves doesn't want children. Will they decide they're not meant to be together? While they're spending the holiday at Aunt Nettie's house, a murder means "auld acquaintances won't be forgot, and long-hidden secrets will be revealed."

Which Christmas mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win The Nightingale Before Christmas" or "Win Shadows on a Maine Christmas." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end next Thursday, Nov. 20 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni

Robert Dugoni, author of My Sister's Grave, is a terrific author who deserves a review on my blog, and not the post he's getting today. Because this is the second time recently that I had to postpone the actual review, I'm going to cut back on the blog tour spots I post here. In fact, I have a couple that are scheduled for next week while I'm at a library conference. We'll see what happens. In the past few months, my work schedule, including an evening meeting or a book discussion, made it difficult to read what I needed to read for a blog tour with a specific date. Readers will still get reviews. That's not changing. But, I'm not going to promise specific dates as often. I'm having a hard time meeting the commitment for a specific date.

Saying that, I'm going to summarize Robert Dugoni's My Sister's Grave, and, when I finish it, I'll review it here. I've actually only read 65 pages. Granted, those are 65 interesting pages, but not sufficient to review a book. Here's the summary from the publisher's publicity department.

"Seattle cop Tracy Crosswhite was a high school chemistry teacher when her teenaged sister Sarah
disappeared one night on her way home to their small town of Cedar Grove. A young ex-con, Edmund House, was quickly tried and convicted of her murder. Twenty years and a career change later, Tracy has dedicated her life to questioning whether the right man went to jail. When Sarah's remains are uncovered from a newly-exposed lake bed, new evidence seems to support Tracy's theory that the original prosecution was deeply flawed.

"Working with a childhood friend, now an attorney, to exonerate House and find Sarah's true killer, Tracy beings to uncover long-held secrets that point to a shocking - and potentially catastrophic - truth about what happened to her sister on that long-ago night. Somewhere in Cedar Grove, a killer is waiting, and Tracy must summon the strength to confront the past in order to save her future."

As the book goes back and forth from Tracy's past to the present day investigation, it becomes a fascinating story. But, as I said, Dugoni deserves better. So, today's post serves to mention an intriguing story. I'll review it when I finish My Sister's Grave.

Robert Dugoni's website is

My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni. Thomas & Mercer. 2014. ISBN 9781477825570 (paperback), 424p.

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Meta Given's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking

Jacqueline Winspear said The Care and Management of Lies was inspired by a book she found, one that was published in 1911. The novel began when she found a dogeared copy of The Woman's Book, a book about household management covering topics including cooking, children, business, and dress. Today, I want to share the 1950s version of that type of book. When I was home a week ago, my mother pulled out a more than dogeared copy of Meta Given's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking. The first edition came out in 1947. The edition I now own came out in 1955.

As Winspear pointed out, cookbooks say so much about our society. Take the creed. Have you seen a creed in any recent cookbook? Here's "The Family Hostess' Creed" from this book. 

"Happy family relationships are part of my responsibility; therefore - I will save enough energy to do the job of being a happy and helpful hostess to my family day after day.

"My family's satisfaction with my table setting and service is my responsibility; therefore - I will manage my linens and other equipment, my method of work, and enlist the assistance of my family to the end that the table shall be clean and beautiful and the service easy and dignified.

"My family's satisfaction with their food is my responsibility; therefore - I will mange so that foods shall come to the table in their prime condition developed by previous care in selection, preparion and cooking.

"Enjoyment of each other and of their food is an important part of successful family life; therefore - I shall use intelligence, skill and love in serving food to my family."

I have to say my mother laughed when I read her this section from her cookbook.And, I told her that is says a homemaker's social responsibility is represented by the slogan, "Every woman a hostess to her own family". And, maybe she read some of those segments, and not just the recipes when she first had the book. But, I don't think she every took the section seriously about serving because it mentions serving "If there is a maid" and "If there is no maid."

Why did I decide to talk about this cookbook today? Because I'm happy to have a piece of cultural history in my hands. It does have good recipes, as evidenced by my mother's cooking. But, it also shows us where we came from as women. And, I'll treasure this as part of cultural, and family, history.

Do you have a cookbook or book that means our cultural history to you?

Meta Given's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking. J.G. Ferguson and Associates. 1947, 1955.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Phantom Evil by Heather Graham

After I read Heather Graham's The Betrayed last month, I went back to the beginning of Heather Graham's Krewe of Hunters series. The books stand alone, but I wanted to see the beginning of the teams. Naturally, a Krewe would begin in New Orleans, the setting for Phantom Evil, the first in the series.

Even though Jackson Crow had lost members of his previous team, it was his actions in saving the remaining group that attracted the attention of Adam Harrison. Harrison is bringing together six investigators for a new investigative unit, investigators that all have some psychic talent. Although Crow is a skeptic, he's heading up the team that's sent to New Orleans to investigate after a senator's wife dies. The police call it suicide. Residents of New Orleans say it's the ghosts that haunt the house that the Holloways bought in the French quarter.

While Jackson is the skeptic, Angela Hawkins sees ghosts, and she certainly experiences them in the New Orleans house, including an evil spirit that other members of the team sense as well. But, Crow is harder to convince since he knows man in capable of terrible evil. And, he knows it's the team's responsibility to determine who caused Regina Holloway's death. Is it people connected with the senator, a local church that seems to be a cult, an Aryan group, or an evil presence in the house itself?

Heather Graham combines her love of New Orleans, her interest in the paranormal, and sexual tension in a riveting novel that kicks off this fascinating series. Graham's story is an engrossing, exciting book. If a series about law enforcement teams that investigate paranormal crimes appeals to you, Phantom Evil is the perfect book to pick up.

Heather Graham's website is

Phantom Evil by Heather Graham. Harlequin MIRA. 2011. ISBN 9780778329534 (hardcover), 361p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, November 10, 2014

The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith

This year, it was a nonfiction Christmas book that made me cry. Joanne Huist Smith's The 13th Gift is "A True Story of a Christmas Miracle". And, it's Smith's own story of family tragedy, and the love that brought a family back together.

Joanne Huist Smith lost her husband, Rick, in October 1999. He had put off heart surgery, hoping to be home recovering when the kids were home on Christmas break. But, his heart didn't make it to Christmas. And, then Smith couldn't find the heart to face the holiday she always loved. In fact, she didn't know how to face her children, Megan who was 10, twelve-year-old Nick, and seventeen-year-old Ben. Instead, the family was falling apart. No one knew how to cope, and the upcoming holiday didn't make it easier. And, then twelve days before Christmas, Megan found a poinsettia on the porch.

Attached to the poinsettia was a homemade card, "On the first day of Christmas your true friends give to you, one Poinsettia for all of you." Smith was angry at the intrusion, and then convinced she knew who the giver was. But, Megan was intrigued. She was young enough to still see, and want, the magic of Christmas. And, it took an anonymous stranger to reach out to Megan. As gift after gift appeared, Smith continued to reject them until she saw the changes in her children, and heard Megan whispering out an open window, telling their "true friends" that the gifts hurt her mother.

The 13th Gift is the story of a true miracle as a family came back together, and found joy in Christmas, despite their sorrow. Most important, they found the ability to reach out to others, to care again, instead of locking themselves in separate rooms as they grieved for the husband and father they all lost.

Smith, who had been a reporter for the Dayton Daily News, knows how to tell a story that rips at the heartstrings. She makes the reader care about her, her family, and the anonymous true friends. The 13th Gift is a Christmas story in the best tradition, one about changed hearts and lives. And, it's all the more special because it's true. It's a perfect story for the holiday season, a story of love, generosity, and giving from the heart.

The website is

The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith. Harmony Books. 2014. ISBN 9780553418552 (hardcover), 224p.

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

Sunday, November 09, 2014

On Borrowed Time by Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay regularly juggles multiple mystery series, including the Library Lover's series. And, she also juggles romantic interests, a primary storyline in her latest book, On Borrowed Time.

Library Director Lindsey Norris has nothing more serious to worry about than her love life. Captain Mike Sullivan "Sully" and British actor Robbie Vine are actually making fools of themselves, stumbling over each other to get Lindsey's attention. Then, her brother, Jack, shows up at the Briar Creek Public Library, sneaking in through an unlocked window. But, before Lindsey can find out what her world-traveling brother is up to, he disappears, leaving behind a dead body in the meeting room. Not knowing her brother's secrets, Lindsey doesn't report his presence to the police. And, when she and Sully end up chasing a boat, and she hears from a kidnapped Jack, she has even more reasons to keep Jack's appearance, and disappearance, a secret.

McKinlay mixes a number of elements together in this latest mystery. It's fun, beginning with the steampunk party, and the boat chase that seems to be a continuation of the steampunk aspect. And, Lindsey's worry about her brother is a valid reason to keep his presence a secret. But, to be honest, the primary purpose of the book seems to be to deal with the issue of Lindsey's love life. The story behind Jack's disappearance doesn't even become a primary focus until three fourths of the book is over. Instead, the book is about Sully and Robbie, and their attempts to get Lindsey's attention. And, for those of us who are rooting for Sully, it's the opportunity to learn more about his background. But, the mystery elements really are just filler this time, and a little outrageous as filler.

Jenn McKinlay's strength is this book lies with her characters. She has created characters the reader cares about, beginning with Lindsey and Sully, and all their friends. Lindsey has a supportive group of friends who are there to help her when she needs them. They're there in times of crisis, and times of celebration.

Read On Borrowed Time if you care more about Lindsey Norris' relationships than a mystery. Cheers for Sully's ongoing attempts. How can Lindsey ignore the man she sees this way? "There was something inherently good and strong and safe about Sully. He radiated a certainly about life and his place in it that she had never known in another person. It made her feel secure." But, just a warning to Lindsey and Jenn McKinlay. Don't keep the relationships hanging out there too long. Some of us have quit reading an ongoing series about a certain cookie bakery owner because, in eighteen books, she couldn't make up her mind which man she loved. (Of course, if you're the author, and pleased with the eighteen books, that's one thing. For those of us who quit reading the series, it's another.)

Jenn McKinlay's website is

On Borrowed Time by Jenn McKinlay. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425260739 (paperback), 294p.

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

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

Mallory Ortberg's Texts from Jane Eyre And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters is one of the cleverest concepts I've seen lately. In fact, even before I read the book, I suggested to an English teacher that he might want to use parts of the book and have his high school students compose text conversations between some of the characters in the books they're reading. I would use caution, though, in sharing the book with the students. You know those classics. Some are a little outrageous, sometimes a little too sexually oriented.

I did learn one thing. I know much more about early literature than I do about more recent classics. Ortberg organized the texts in chronological order. Medea's conversations with Jason's second bride are quite funny, but you had to have read the play or know the story. And, the witch, Circe, has the funniest conversation with Odysseus, but, again, it helps to have read The Odyssey. And, that's actually true of all of them. I was a little in the dark when it came to Fight Club and William Carlos Williams. But, anyone who ever read Gone with the Wind will recognize Scarlett O'Hara as she tries to lure Ashley away from Melanie. And, the conversations between Hamlet and his mother show that he was actually a spoiled son throwing a tantrum.

None of the conversations are long ones. Remember, the characters have to pay for their text-and-data plans. But, so many of literature's great characters and authors appear on the pages, from Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester to Edgar Allen Poe. Ortberg even brings the books into contemporary times, including Nancy Drew, who continually texts Ned for help because she's tied up somewhere.

And, it wouldn't be fair to write about such an amusing book without giving you a taste of it. So, here's the opening of the text conversation from my all-time favorite play, Les Miserables. (Admittedly, it won't read as well as it does formatted for text as it is in the book.)

"where are you?"     "I am so there this barricade is going to be an absolute HAPPENING you guys don't start without me I am on my way like in five minutes"     "Marius I'm concerned you don't really understand the reason for our movement"     "oh my god what do you mean"   "I sometimes question your commitment to the cause"    "how could you possibly even question that"    "I don't know, Marius maybe it's because you have missed every one of our clashes with the police because you were still studying for the bar"   "to bring down the system from within!"

Believe me, Marius' on-going conversations with everyone proves how clueless he is, about everything from the revolution to Jean Valjean. It's just fun.

In fact, despite the few conversations that I didn't understand at all because I never read the work or the author, that sentence sums up Texts from Jane Eyre perfectly. It's just fun. If you can laugh at literature, Ortberg succeeds in pointing out how ridiculous it is at times. Henry David Thoreau may have gone to the woods, but he depended on friends. Would any woman really have wanted to be Don Quixote's love interest? A few of literature's great characters and authors are a little too obsessed. Their text messages prove it.

Mallory Ortberg's website is

Texts from Jane Eyre And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg. Henry Holt and Company. 2014. ISBN 9781627791830 (paperback), 240p.

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

Friday, November 07, 2014

Winners and A Favorites GiveawayC

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Lynn D. of Saint Clair, MI won Elizabeth Craig's Shear Trouble. Eileen K. from Island Lake, IL won Elizabeth Lynn Casey's Taken In. I'm mailing the books today.

This week, I'm giving away two books that have nothing in common. However, the authors do have a couple things in common. They're both favorite authors, and favorite people. Who doesn't love Hank Phillippi Ryan and Kelli Stanley? I'm giving away ARCs of their latest books (keeping MY copies, though!).

Hank Phillippi Ryan's Truth Be Told finds reporter Jane Ryland working on a story about a family evicted from their home. In digging up the facts on the heartbreaking story, Jane uncovers a scheme behind those evictions, and some surprising players. While she's working those stories, the Boston police are investigating some of those houses where murder victims have been found.

Kelli Stanley takes us back to San Francisco and June 1940 in City of Ghosts. Private investigator Miranda Corbie's mother is trapped in England, and Miranda wants to get her out of there. In order to find her mother, Miranda agrees to try to expose a Nazi spy. Then, she's forced to clear her own name when she becomes a murder suspect.

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 Truth Be Told" or "Win City of Ghosts." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, Nov. 13 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

What are you reading?

Between going to visit family, driving eight hours each way, and then going to Books and Bottles last night to talk about books, I haven't had time to finish much. I'm just starting Jenn McKinlay's latest Library Lover's Mystery, On Borrowed Time.

So, now it's your turn. What did you just finish, or what are you reading? Curious minds want to know. Let's talk about your reading today! I always like to know what you're reading.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas

Sandra Dallas' introduction to A Quilt for Christmas calls it a Christmas book, written after her agent requested one. Well, there is a quilt given as a Christmas gift, and a couple Christmases in it, but it's really a novel about the effect of the Civil War on the lives of the people who lived through it, the men who fought, the women and families at home. And, it's connected to Dallas' novel, The Persian Pickle Club, which is now twenty years old. A Quilt for Christmas features the grandmothers of some of the women in the earlier book, with a setting in Kansas during the Civil War, instead of the Depression.

By 1864, Eliza Spooner's husband, Will, has joined the Kansas Volunteers to fight for the Union. Like all the other women in her quilting group, Eliza is struggling to keep her farm going with her husband at war. She also has a son and daughter to worry about. But, she worries most about Will, and sends him a Christmas quilt she made, hoping it will keep him warm while he thinks of her and home. In return, Will writes letters telling of the war, and giving her advice.  But, when she receives the worst kind of letter, Eliza has to rely on herself.  Each time Eliza has to make a major decision, she asks herself what Will would do. Would he have advised her to take in a needy widow and her child? Would he have advised her to hide a runaway slave? Would Will have forgiven the enemy and moved on with life?

Eliza Spooner's story is a woman's story. It's a story of those left behind by war, struggling to go on with life, working the farm, raising children, turning to other women for help and support. It's sad, and poignant, and uplifting at the same time. It's a story of courage that shows how strong women can be when they're tested.

It's also a story of war, of loss and futility, anger and hatred. It's about ordinary men thrust into war who realize they're fighting other men just like themselves, men who left behind wives they loved, children, and family farms. It's a tragic story, with traces of hope.

This week, I found Dallas' Civil War novel particularly poignant. I was home in Ohio, doing genealogical research on my grandmother's family. Two of her great-uncles fought in the Civil War, and we visited the cemetery where they are buried. One had been in a prison camp, and died soon after being exchanged and returning home. The other reminds me of the men in A Quilt for Christmas. All the way driving back to Indiana yesterday, I thought of DeWitt Clinton Wadsworth. We have letters about him. In one, he wrote and asked to have leave to come home and settle affairs. It was written shortly before he died. One letter describes the injuries that killed him. And, the family history says of him, 'DeWitt Clinton Wadsworth...died on the Chickamauga battle-field about September 20, 1863, while commanding Company C, 24th Ohio Infantry, "in defense of the starry flag," aged 40 years, 10 months, 13 days.' Later, it says, "He married Lucinda Foos and lived in the old homestead of his parents when he went to the army in 1861, as First Lieutenant of Company C, 24th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was promoted to captain of he company he was gallantly leading on the battlefield of Chickamauga, Tennessee, September 18, 1863, when he was mortally wounded and fell in the hands of the enemy." This kind of family story turns Sandra Dallas' A Quilt for Christmas to reality. It's a family story of a forty-year-old man who left behind a wife and three sons.

Sandra Dallas may think of A Quilt for Christmas as a Christmas story. I think of it as a Civil War story of courage, loss, regret, and love.

Sandra Dallas' website is

A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas. St. Martin's Press, 2014. ISBN 9781250045942 (hardcover), 256p.

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Road Trip

I've been in Ohio this past weekend, visiting Mom, and catching up with my sisters. Actually, we went to a cemetery, and spent time doing some genealogy. It's been a lot of fun. So, I won't be around all day to discuss books. I'm driving home.

Instead, I have a tombstone to share with you. This isn't a relative, but the most interesting tombstone we saw at the cemetery. It could generate some interesting stories.

It says, "In memory of Hannah Snow, the mother of Willard & Robert Snow his brother who were murdered June 2, 1812 by the British Indians and he and two sisters carried prisoners to Canada at the same time."

There's quite a story there.

Monday, November 03, 2014

D.J. Donaldson, Guest Blogger - Ebola & the CDC

 It's with great pleasure that I welcome D.J. Donaldson to Lesa's Book Critiques. I've read almost all the Andy Broussard/Kit Franklyn mysteries, forensic mystery thrillers that came out even before Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs started to emphasize forensics in their books. Today, he's taking on a subject that's in the news - Ebola.

Outbreak… Breakdown
A Forensic/Medical Author’s Take on Ebola and the CDC

My book, Louisiana Fever, involves the spread of a bleeding disease known as Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever. This is a real disease that, like its close relative, Ebola, is caused by an infectious virus.  And having researched this thoroughly (and having come from a forensic/health background) I feel compelled to weigh in on the Ebola outbreak.

When I was plotting Louisiana Fever, I figured I ought to have a character in the book that was once an infectious disease specialist at the CDC.  It seemed like a logical idea because the CDC is this country’s unquestioned champion against virulent organisms, an organization staffed with experts that know every nuance of tropical viruses and how they can be controlled.

To make sure my writing about the CDC would have an authentic ring to it, I asked the public relations office of the CDC if I might be given a tour of the place.  “Sorry,” I was told.  “We don’t give tours.”  Considering how many dangerous viruses are stored in the various labs there, that seemed like a good policy, even to me.  So there would be no tour.  But then I heard from someone in my department at the U. of Tennessee Medical Center that one of our former graduate students now worked at the CDC.  I began to wonder if this connection might work to my advantage. 

And it certainly did.  The former student was now a virology section chief. A SECTION CHIEF…. Holy cow! This could be my way in.  But would the man be generous by nature and sympathetic to writers?  He proved to be both of those.

On the day of my visit, I reported to the security office as instructed.  There, I had to wait until my host came to escort me into the bowels of the place… no wandering around on my own with a visitor’s badge.  That day I saw the hot zone in action and spoke with experts in many fields of virology, even spent some time with the world expert on porcine retroviruses.  At the end of my visit—including all the cumbersome clinical protocols I had to engage in both before and during said visit—I not only left feeling more educated, but actually more safe and secure that no tropical virus would ever be a threat to this country… not with the meticulous, detail-oriented, security conscious, microbe fighters at the CDC watching out for us.      

So, it’s with much regret and… yes, even a little fear, that I witnessed the head of the CDC recently assuring us that the Ebola virus is very difficult to transmit and that we know exactly how to control it.  Instead of (what looked like) his clumsy attempts to soothe an ignorant and paranoid public, the CDC head should have given a blunt assessment, educated everyone like adults, and encouraged them to exercise precaution. Then, seemingly in answer, two nurses who cared for the index patient from Liberia become Ebola positive.  And the CDC clears one of those nurses to take a commercial airline flight, even though she was in the early stages of Ebola infection…depressing.  From a medical professional standpoint, this was practically criminal negligence. At present, the disease is not transmitted by air ("airborne"), but any scientist worth his/her salt cannot account for mutations the virus may undergo.  This is why the job of the CDC is to contain harmful microbes, issue protocols to protect the public against them and ultimately eradicate them... period.  It is not to be PR professionals for television cameras and fostering carelessness.

I’m still convinced that the combined knowledge and brainpower of the CDC staff will be a major impediment to any virus taking over this country.  But Ebola probably has some tricks we haven’t seen yet. That means we may lose a few more battles before we can declare that this particular threat is behind us.

Meanwhile, how is development of that Ebola vaccine coming?

D.J. Donaldson is a retired professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Tennessee, Health Science Center—where he taught and published dozens of papers on wound-healing and other health issues.  He is the author of Louisiana Fever, one of the seven in the Andy Broussard/Kit Franklyn series of forensic mystery thrillers.

Louisiana Fever:

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Rick Bragg at the Southern Festival of Books

I'll always take the opportunity to see Rick Bragg. At the Southern Festival of Books, he told us he'd tell us the life story of his latest book, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story.

It started with a call from his agent. When you see that area code (212) come up on the phone, you think "Shit". His agent asked Bragg if he had any interest in doing a book about Jerry Lee Lewis. He said he should have hid under the bed. Instead, he thought, "How could that be dull?" Bragg's friends warned him that Jerry Lee was a little bit crazy. "He shot his bass player." Why not shoot a writer?

Rick and Jerry Lee worked on the book over two summers because Lewis has serious health problems. He'd finally kicked a lifelong addiction to pain medicine that started with back problems. He was flat on his back as the interviews were done. Rick sat in a rocking chair while he was in a dark room, and asked questions.

There was more than one bullet hole in the wall of Jerry Lee Lewis' room. There was a picture of Hank Williams, still covered with a black ribbon. Lewis loved Hank. And, the whole time Rick was thinking, "I'm in no danger. He wouldn't shoot me on purpose."

Of Jerry Lee Lewis, Bragg says, "He has lived his life exactly as he wanted to, and he owns his sin." Jerry Lee Lewis said, I have "Such sins at my back, it would kill me to turn around." Bragg admitted it was a trick to make readers feel some kind of sympathy for him.

Bragg only talked to Jerry Lee Lewis in the afternoons. Like Bragg, he was not an early riser. And he had that Southern phenomenon of not turning off TV, so he'd watch High Chaparral and other westerns.

And, Jerry Lee Lewis calls people "The Killer" if he likes you or wants to win you over.

Rick Bragg, who already owned the audience, read from Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, answered questions, and continued to tell us stories.

Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story by Rick Bragg. HarperCollins. 2014. ISBN 9780062078223 (hardcover), 512p.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

December Treasures in My Closet

Maybe the publishers realize I won't have a lot of reading time in December. The pile for December releases is one of the smallest I've ever seen. (On the other hand, February's stack is already enormous!) Here are the few books I already have with December release dates.

Meet Your Baker is the first in Ellie Alexander's Bakeshop mystery series. After graduating from culinary school, Juliet Capshaw returns to her quaint hometown of Ashland, Oregon to help her mom at the family bakery. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is bringing in lots of tourists. But with the death of one of Torte's customers, there's much ado about murder. (Release date is Dec. 30.)

Every corpse is a clue in Ursula Archer's psychological thriller Five. A woman is found murdered and there are strange tattoos on her feet. Detective Beatrice Kaspary identifies the digits as map coordinates, and embarks on a bloody trail through the world of geocaching. As the riddles become more complex, Kaspary becomes a pawn in the perpetrator's game. (Release date is Dec. 9.)

I suspect Jane K. Cleland's new mystery, Blood Rubies, will be a gem. Amateur sleuth/antiques appraiser Josie Prescott teams up with her reporter friend, Wes, to investigate a murder. Ana Yartsin is about to launch a reality TV show showcasing her new bakery. She bakes cakes inspired by her family's Faberge Spring Egg snow globe. When Josie arrives at Ana's to appraise the egg, she finds a dead man and the smashed snow globe. (Release date is Dec. 2.)

Jane Green brings us a novel about one woman's search to find herself, and another woman's obsession to make her disappear. In Saving Grace, Ted and Grace Chapman seem to have it all. They're a literary power couple, the envy of everyone who knows them. But beneath the surface lies Ted's temper and the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When they hire a new assistant, things begin to crumble, sending Grace on a dark journey that could cost her marriage, her reputation, and even her sanity. (Release date is Dec. 30.)

In James W. Hall's The Big Finish, Thorn heads to a tiny North Carolina town, intending to take revenge on the person who killed his son, Flynn. Flynn disappeared a year earlier into the eco-underground. When an FBI agent tells Thorn that Flynn is dead, he agrees to act as bait. But, he soon finds that everything he's been told is a lie. Thorn uncovers a conspiracy that stretches far beyond the small Carolina town. (Release date is Dec. 2.)

Mette Ivie Harrison's novel, The Bishop's Wife, is inspired by an actual crime and written by a practicing Mormon. Linda Wallheim is the wife of a Mormon bishop, the ward's designated spiritual father. But, Linda is increasingly troubled by the church's patriarchal structure and secrecy. When a neighbor shows up with his daughter, claiming his wife has disappeared in the night, leaving everything behind, Linda becomes suspicious. Her husband asks her not to get involved, but Linda can't let the matter rest until she finds out the truth. (Release date is Dec. 30.)

Thief and international agent Robin Monarch returns in Mark Sullivan's Thief. Monarch steals to order, and this time he has plans to take illicit profits from a shady investor, and turn them over to take care of orphans and street kids. He uses a Christmas party as a cover, but takes way two unexpected things. One is a bullet - he gets shot. The second is a lead on an exploit that will take all his skills, keeping the secret of eternal life from falling into the wrong hands. (Release date is Dec. 16.)

Which books will distract you from the holidays? Or, maybe you're going to ask for them for yourself?