Friday, February 28, 2014

Winners and a British Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. D.E. Johnson's Detroit Shuffle will go to Lorraine T. from Saline, MI. Rick Gavin's Nowhere Nice goes to Glen D. of Yuba City, CA. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This will be the last Thursday night contest for a few weeks. However, there will be a special cozy giveaway on March 3. March is a busy month with two conferences, and I won't be around to run the contests. So, I hope you enter on Monday, or enter to win one  of the two books I'm giving away this week. This giveaway features books set in England.

Deborah Crombie's bestseller, The Sound of Broken Glass, was just released in paperback. It's a mystery that links the past and present when Detective Inspector Gemma James' team takes center stage in the the latest Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James story. Crystal Palace is the setting when a lonely young teen meets his new neighbor, a widowed young teacher. Years later, the murder of a well-respected barrister, found in a seedy hotel in Crystal Palace, leads James to that meeting years earlier.



Or you could win Sam Thomas' Midwife mystery, The Harlot's Tale. Thomas takes readers back to Civil War England. It's Aug. 1645, one year after York fell into Puritan hands. The city's overlords have launched a brutal campaign t whip the city's sinners into godliness. But, someone is taking matters into their own hands, targeting York's sinners for execution. Bridget and Martha, aided by Bridget's nephew, race to find the killer even as he adds more bodies to the tally.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read either "Win The Sound of Broken Glass" or "Win The Harlot's Tale." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway ends Thursday, March 6 at 6 PM CT.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

One of my co-workers brought me Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, saying it was a fun mystery, and she thought I would like it. She knows I'll read a good mystery, even when it's a juvenile book. And, Turnage introduces wonderful characters in a story filled with humor and drama.

Welcome to Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, where "rising sixth grader" Miss Moses LoBeau tells the story of the summer she was eleven when a stranger, Detective Joe Starr, walked into the cafe owned my Mo's stepparents. Suddenly, an ordinary summer is not so ordinary. The stingiest man in town is murdered. Mo's best friend, Dale, is a suspect. Mo and Dale form the Desperado Detectives to figure it all out, but that's before a kidnapping that comes too close to home for Mo, and the hurricane that blows in some answers.

It's hard to resist a book that starts with "Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt. Almost before the dust had settled, Mr. Jesse turned up dead and life in Tupelo Landing turned upside down."

And, it's hard to resist Mo, a precocious young girl who runs the cafe when she needs to, and yearns for answers to her own past. She was found as a baby strapped to a board raft during a hurricane, with the man who became her stepfather, the Colonel, clinging to the raft with no memory of his past. Mo sends jars up the river with letters addressed to her "Upstream Mother", the woman who must have strapped her to that board in the midst of a hurricane. She adores her stepparents, talks her way out of situations, wants to marry Dale's much older brother, and doesn't realize how much the town loves her until tragedy strikes.

Three Times Lucky might be written for an audience of ten to fourteen-year-olds. But, consider yourself lucky if you have the chance to meet Mo LoBeau in this charming mystery.

Sheila Turnage's website is www.sheilaturnage.com

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. Dial Books for Readers. 2012. ISBN 9780803736702 (hardcover), 312p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Around the World in 80 Dinners by Cheryl & Bill Jamison

When I picked up this book at the library and saw the subtitle it was hard to resist; Around the
World in 80 Dinners: The Ultimate Culinary Adventure, 50,000 Miles, 10 Countries, 800 Dishes, and 1 Rogue Monkey. Cheryl and Bill Jamison are the authors of over a dozen cookbooks and travel guides. They are four-time James Beard Award-winning authors. They took both of their loves on a three month trip to taste food and see the world.

It took a great deal of shuffling of frequent flyer miles, and four years of planning, but in 2005 the couple managed to put together an exotic trip that took them from Bali to Australia, India to South Africa, France and Brazil, with stops in between. In each location they stayed in unusual hotels, and did their best to eat the native cuisine, although that didn't always work out. Thailand didn't do as well celebrating the local food as did India. In some countries, they had wonderful guides who led them to hidden restaurants. And, then there was that one monkey who caused trouble in the very first country.

The Jamisons had taken along Flat Stanley, a storybook character who is often photographed on trips. They planned to take pictures for their granddaughter, beginning with a picture with the monkeys in Bali. But, one monkey grabbed Flat Stanley, ripped him apart, and left the couple to piece together a mock-up for the rest of the trip.

But, the book really isn't about accidents. It's about the enjoyment of travel and food. I enjoyed the stories about the trip, but, not being a foodie, my eyes glazed over at times with the lists of food eaten. And, sometimes it really was just a list. In addition, because the book was written by both Cheryl and Bill Jamison, sometimes I found it difficult to read. Sometimes it said, "we", and other times it said Cheryl or Bill. I understand, and it makes sense. But, it just felt awkward at times.

Saying all of that, I'm still going to present this at a forthcoming book talk. The trip itself makes for fascinating reading, and foodies will appreciate the lists of exotic foods more than I did.

The authors' website is www.cookingwiththejamisons.com

Around the World in 80 Dinners by Cheryl & Bill Jamison. William Morrow. 2008. ISBN 9780060878955 (hardcover), 258p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book




Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Gerrie Ferris Finger, Guest Blogger


I've been waiting to host Gerrie Ferris Finger on my blog. I loved her debut mystery, The End Game,
and I've been reading her books since she first won The Malice Domestic/St. Martin's Minotaur Best First Traditional Mystery Contest. You all know I'm a fan of traditional mysteries. So, please join me in welcoming Gerrie Ferris Finger with a piece about interruptions.     



Scriba Interrupta


The interrupted scribe. Sounds better than the interrupted author. Either way, it’s a pain in the brain.

The dictionary says an interruption is: an act or instance of interrupting; break off, disturbance. For this writer, disturbance fits the last half of 2013 to a tee.

Be that as it was, I got the manuscript completed, and to my satisfaction. Now I’m on hiatus. I like the word hiatus. At the University of Missouri, my advisor was on hiatus in France, and I had a interim advisor that I liked because he okayed everything I wanted to do, no questions asked. Hiatus is a positive word.

I fear, though, that my brief hiatus will be interrupted because the ARCs (advance reader copies = proofs) are due any day for Murmurs of Insanity, the fourth in my Moriah Dru/Richard Lake series. It’s scheduled for release in July, 2014. I have three weeks to read the entire novel -- which is in book form with a cover -- and return it to my publisher with corrections. There will be corrections, I guarantee. After ten novels, there always have been.

My hiatus has already included noodling out the plot for the seventh in the series. It’s going to be fun. I can’t wait to begin. I’ve read two books by favorite writers, played a round of golf, and now I itch to get back to creating. I also know what’s ahead. Interruptions. Gone are the days when I can steam through a first draft, uninterrupted, for a couple of months -- all the while looking forward to leisurely making it make sense in the editing/revising process. Stopping and restarting lately has me whining, and my husband offering me cheese. My fellow writers can concur that when continuity is broken, writing becomes hard work.

I begin novels in June and January. In June of 2013 I began working on the sixth in the series, American
Nights. In September The Devil Laughed was to be released. My publicist had booked many promotional gigs, but I wanted to start AM to get a solid idea where the novel was going before I was interrupted, an interruption I knew was coming.
From the start American Nights became a difficult, ambitious project. I got into the research and struggled with the draft because of my husband’s surgical interruptions. When he can’t play golf, the words “road trip” come at me constantly. They can mean going to the beach, to see grandchildren two hundred miles away, a late lunch, etc. Enjoyable as it is, it’s still an interruption, and a thought drain during the early days of the draft when my passion runs high, ideas flow, and the characters surprise with twists they make happen.
Summer was gone too soon and my husband was back on the golf course, and I had to take to the road to promo Devil -- to speak  at one book festival after another. I love book festivals, but I had rewound and gotten crazy about the new story and the characters. All I wanted to do was write the darn thing while I was exhilarated and loving the challenge.
Some time ago, I’d begun to see a pattern to this series. Trouble-free projects followed by difficult projects. The first manuscript in the series, The Last Temptation, had a wacky plot and unique characters to develop. We’d been in California on a golf trip and I fell in love with the real characters we ran into. There wasn’t much interruption when I wrote that book because I had an e-book series going with a California publisher and no traveling promo to do.




The second in the series -- which was published first -- The End Game (won the St. Martin’s/Malice
Domestic First Traditional Novel) was more difficult. The interruptions started about this time. Fan conventions, book signings, book clubs, but in between I wrote The Devil Laughed . I’d been inspired to write it when I went to the Cape Fear Crime Festival. So interruptions do pay off, at times.
Book Four, Murmurs of Insanity was complicated. And the interruptions came at me like bats from a cave at twilight. So I decided to write a book in the series that featured something I’ve never done, but think must be delightful. Riding motorcycles. Running with Wild Blood, scheduled to be released in 2015, happens when Dru and Lake hook up with an outlaw motorcycle gang to solve a murder the gang is accused of committing. Despite interruptions, it was a wild, delicious ride because the novel wrote itself.
I thought American Nights would be another delight, because it takes off on Arabian Nights -- tales that I savor.  But it was grueling to keep continuity with all the major interruptions. I really needed a cabin in the woods for three months. After the promos for Devil died down, came a family wedding of some eight days. Yep, start to finish, a must-go-to destination wedding far from home. When I got home and recuperated, I found I had to begin at the beginning. Then came surgery. I’d put off gall bladder surgery for years, but the time had come. I healed fast, but I needed to begin anew to pick up the thread.
The holidays are always interruptions and I heretofore I had my manuscripts finished by November, but not this one. Thanksgiving was a road trip, so was Christmas. January had me restarting the book and revising. Here it is almost March before I begin on another. Oh, I will. I’ll interrupt my hiatus to do it.



Bio and links:
Retired journalist for The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, in 2009, Gerrie Ferris Finger won The Malice Domestic/St. Martin's Minotaur Best First Traditional Novel Competition for THE END GAME, released by St. Martin's Minotaur in 2010. She grew up in Missouri, then headed further south to join the staff of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There, she researched and edited the columns of humorist Lewis Grizzard and co-wrote a news column with another reporter for three years. The series that started there is still going strong today. Murmurs of Insanity is the latest addition and will be released in the summer of 2014.

Monday, February 24, 2014

March Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian

Ah, Jinx. This time, there are nine March mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian, and one black cat who's a ham.



Here are the nine cozy mysteries that were featured today.


Shunned and Dangerous by Laura Bradford - 3rd Amish mystery
Pearls and Poison by Duffy Brown - 3rd Consignment Shop mystery
Keeping Mum by Alyse Carlson - 3rd Garden Society mystery
Sweet Tea Revenge by Laura Childs - 14th Tea Shop mystery
Iced to Death by Peg Cochran - 3rd Gourmet De-Lite mystery
Inherit the Word by Daryl Wood Gerber - 2nd Cookbook Nook mystery
How to Paint a Cat by Rebecca M. Hale - 5th Cats and Curios mystery
Spinning in Her Grave by Molly MacRae - 3rd Haunted Yarn Shop mystery
Dead Between the Lines by Denise Swanson - 3rd Devereaux's Dime Store mystery



Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Tale of Two Biddies by Kylie Logan

There's just something about Kylie Logan's League of Literary Ladies mysteries that draw me back. It might be the setting of Put-in-Bay, the village on South Bass Island in Lake Erie. It might be the unusual situation of three women sentenced to belong to a book discussion group. And, Put-in-Bay really does do unusual celebrations to attract tourists, so Bastille Day celebrations wouldn't be so off-the-mark there. So, enter the celebration of the French Revolution on Put-in-Bay, where naturally A Tale of Two Biddies leads to murder.

Before visitors even arrive at Bea Cartwright's bed-and-breakfast for the Bastille Day celebrations, the islanders themselves are celebrating. But, their picnics are broken up by lightning and thunder, and a man in the water. People were glad that Ritchie Monroe was rescued, but no one believed him when he claimed he was pushed. Most of the islanders had little use for Ritchie. His carelessness caused too many accidents. One man lost his business due to Ritchie's actions; one lost his new mansion, and another had a damaged boat. Sure, people had reasons to dislike Ritchie. But, no one believed him when he said he was pushed.

Bea has too much on her hands to worry about Ritchie. There's the aging boy band, Guillotine, staying at her B and B,  who bring their own fans and problems. There are a few Charles Dickens impersonators staying there as well, bitter rivals. And, she and her new friends are reading A Tale of Two Cities, a perfect selection for Bastille Days. But, when an islander ends up dead, Bea and the League of Literary Ladies are determined to find answers.

Last year, my sister complained that the first book in this series had little local color. She's right. The book really could take place in any island community. It's one of the problems when an author uses an actual location, and people know the setting. And, it's another book that had a solution that I guessed early. Saying that, it's still a fun story with all the references to Dickens and A Tale of Two Cities. The biggest mysteries in the book remain the secrets in Bea's life and her new relationship to a secretive bartender. But, those are secrets that will have to be told in another mystery. This mystery really is A Tale of Two Biddies.

Kylie Logan's website is www.kylielogan.com

A Tale of Two Biddies by Kylie Logan. Berkley. 2014. ISBN 9780425257760 (paperback), 296p.

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

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What are you reading?

So, raise your hand if the Olympics have distracted you from your reading this week.



That's me raising my hand. I should have finished another book tonight, but I'm still reading Kylie Logan's A Tale of Two Biddies. I'm sorry. I have always loved the stories behind the athletes. I can read and half-listen to the Olympics. But, when the athlete's story is interesting, I listen. There's a reason I'm a reader. I love stories.

So, what are you reading today or what has distracted you?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Winners and a Gritty Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Jo D. of Eugene, OR won Elizabeth Craig's Quilt Trip. Linda R. of Dickinson, TX will receive Carol Ann Martin's Tapestry of Lies. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm offering some grittier mysteries. Rick Gavin's books featuring cop-turned-repo man Nick Reid and his partner Desmond have been called "Delta noir". Gavin drags readers through the Delta sludge in  Nowhere Nice. Nick's old meth-dealer adversary, Boudrot, has escaped from the local penitentiary, and, since they helped put him there, Nick and Desmond are't happy. Boudrot is going after anybody remotely involved in his incarceration, and Nick and Desmond are the only ones who can stop him. Looking for colorful euphemisms, entertaining dialogue, and rough-hewn characters? You might want Nowhere Nice.



D.E. Johnson takes readers north to early 20th century Detroit in Detroit Shuffle. Will Anderson, a car-factory heir and amateur sleuth, breaks up a women's suffrage rally when he thwarts a gunman set on killing his lover, Elizabeth Hume. But, no one else saw the man, and no one believes Will. Will has to unravel a complicated tapestry of blackmail, double-dealing, conspiracy and murder before the killer has the next chance to strike.

North or South? You can enter to win both books, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your entry should read either "Win Nowhere Nice" or "Win Detroit Shuffle." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, Feb. 27 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Forbidden Stone by Tony Abbott

I just love some of the adventure series for young people. I just hate it that they're series and I have to wait a while to read the next book. Ever since Harry Potter, authors know they can write big books and readers will latch onto them. And, The 39 Clues books proved that readers would follow adventures in book after book. Tony Abbott has written almost a hundred books for young readers. Now, he launches a series of six books, The Copernicus Legacy, beginning with The Forbidden Stone.

When he was seven, Wade Kaplan received an antique celestial map from a friend of his father's, a man he called Uncle Henry. Now, six years later, that map is the first key to a mysterious quest. Around the world, astronomers are dying in unusual "accidents", including Uncle Henry. When Wade, his father, his stepbrother, Darrell, and two friends, Becca and Lily, head to Germany for Uncle Henry's funeral, they have no idea they'll soon be involved in a quest, chased by dangerous men in black, and an even more dangerous woman.

"It's all codes and half clues, places, word games, quotations, number tricks." It's a fun adventure. Darrell sees it as a spy game, until it becomes dangerous, and Wade's father is arrested, and the police seem to be enemies. Who can they trust when they can't even trust the police? The small group find themselves on a worldwide quest set by a brilliant man, Copernicus, who disguised the clues so he could hide a discovery from a powerful secret organization. Along the way, they'll find an unusual connections, people charged with helping and protecting them as they search for mysterious relics.

The book is designed for readers eight to twelve, but I'd recommend it to any readers who enjoy a riveting adventure story. Uncle Henry once wrote, "The sky is where mathematics and magic become one." Tony Abbott's The Forbidden Stone is where history and clues become one grand adventure.

Tony Abbott's website is www.tonyabbottbooks.com

The Forbidden Stone by Tony Abbott. HarperCollins. 2014. ISBN 9780062194473 (hardcover), 423p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pirate Vishnu by Gigi Pandian

Jaya Jones really isn't "the worst Indian ever". She only lived in India until she was seven, and after her mother's death, she moved to California with her American father. But, she still respects her mother's family. Unfortunately, it's stories of that family that land her in trouble in Gigi Pandian's new Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery, Pirate Vishnu. How far would you go to uncover family secrets?

Jaya doesn't recognize the stranger who shows up at her door with a treasure map in hand. He insists her great-granduncle stole something from his grandfather, and that Jaya has family letters that would give them more details. But, that's not the family legend of Jaya's Uncle Anand who left India and died in the Great Earthquake of San Francisco in 1906 trying to save a friend. As a historian, Jones wants to find the truth. And, although she doesn't want to admit it, she really does thrive on danger and excitement.

Jaya intends to tell her best friend, Sanjay, about the treasure map and letters, but a break-up with the mysterious art historian Lane Peters and an evening performing on the Indian drums delay the story. It's a story that grows more complicated when Jones' afternoon visitor is murdered, and Jaya is mugged. That threat won't deter her from finding answers. "There's a missing treasure, incomplete information, inconsistent facts, an unsubstantiated accusation against Uncle Anand, and I've ended up with a Tamil treasure map." No matter what, Jaya is determined to find the answers to her family's secrets.

Missing Elizabeth Peters' Vicky Bliss? I've mentioned before that Jaya Jones reminds me of the best of the Vicky Bliss books. The fun mysteries are fascinating stories involving historians caught up in fast-paced adventures, and off-and-on romances with mysterious men. Pandian's books are filled with offbeat characters; Jaya's best friend, Sanjay, who is a magician, the unusual librarian, Jones' landlady. And, of course, there's the secretive Lane Peters.

Pirate Vishnu is an entertaining escapade, a mystery that travels from one exotic place to another, San Francisco to India and back, with pirates, treasure, the San Francisco Earthquake, and, of course, Jaya Jones.

Gigi Pandian's website is www.gigipandian.com

Pirate Vishnu by Gigi Pandian. Henery Press. 2013. ISBN 9781938383977 (paperback), 306p.

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Large Print: An Unshelved Collection by Gene Ambaum & Bill Barnes

Are you curious as to what really goes on in public libraries? Dewey knows! That's Dewey, the teen librarian in Gene Ambaum & Bill Barnes comic strip, Unshelved, set in the Mallville Public Library. I had a stack of the Unshelved collections at home, and just finished the last in the stack, Large Print. Ambaum and Barnes have been spending way too much time listening to librarians talk.

Here's the quote on the back of the book. "What do you get when you mix adults, teenagers, children, seniors, professionals, parents, teachers, students, homeschoolers, the homeless? That very funniest of places, your local public library, home of the hugely popular comic strip Unshelved." Ambaum and Barnes take readers behind the scenes and onto the floor of the library, showing day-to-day life. And, the truth? Libraries really are like the Mallville Public Library where Dewey works.

Dewey works with a full staff, a children's librarian who loves storytime and rainbows. another library who hates the Internet, a manager who doesn't want to face the public. And, Dewey, our hero, works with the public day after day. Unshelved even provides Dewey with the opportunity to do book talks. The comic often contains strips that highlight the plot of a book the authors find interesting.

Will you love the Unshelved cartoons if you don't work in libraries? If you spend much time in libraries, you'll recognize the characters. But, if you've ever worked in a library and haven't checked out this comic, you're overdue. You can check it out at www.Unshelved.com, and, if you like it, you can have it delivered to your email daily.

Large Print: An Unshelved Collection by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes. Overdue Media. 2010. ISBN 9780974035376 (paperback), 127p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, February 17, 2014

Murder with Ganache by Lucy Burdette

Lucy Burdette's amateur sleuth Hayley Snow has always seemed overwhelmed by her life.  And, nothing could be worse than what she faces in Murder with Ganache, but she handles all the turmoil with panache.

Hayley's problems begin when she's baking cupcakes for her best friend's wedding, and her cats tear across the cupcakes as they escape from the neighbor's dog. She's trying to balance her maid of honor duties, including baking two hundred cupcakes with her food critic job at Key Zest magazine. Throw in the job of hosting her divorced parents and their current partners. Does she need a sullen fifteen-year-old stepbrother in the mix?

Events spin out of control beginning at the wedding shower when Hayley persuades Rory's mother to allow him to go out to Duval Street for the evening. When the teen doesn't return, Hayley spends a sleepless night looking for the boy who's now a suspect in the theft of a Jet Ski. That's bad enough, but he disappeared with a runaway girl. When Rory turns up bleeding and unconscious, and the girl is found dead, it's easy to suspect him. Food might be soothing in the crisis, but Hayley has to probe into her stepbrother's secrets in order to help him.

To be honest, I haven't always been a fan of Hayley Snow. She was originally too naive for my taste, and seemed too ditzy. But, in Murder with Ganache, she's the linchpin. She successfully juggles complex family relationships, wedding preparations and complications, and taste-testing food for her day job. The author focuses on difficult family relationships in this well-developed mystery. Oh, yes. Don't forget there's an investigation involving a dead teen. Lucy Burdette skillfully brings all those elements together in a strong mystery that manages to showcase Key West and food while bemoaning the tragic loss of a young girl.

Lucy Burdette's website is www.lucyburdette.com

Murder with Ganache by Lucy Burdette. Obsidian. 2014. ISBN 9780451465894 (paperback), 307p.

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

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson

I originally asked for a copy of Marci Jefferson's debut novel, Girl on the Golden Coin, because
the author lives in Indiana. And, I agreed to participate in the book blog tour for the book. Once I read the book, I realized Jefferson needs to have her readers speak up for this book. The historical novel about Frances Stuart is a stunning debut introducing a woman few readers know about. In fact, this is probably the most readable historical novel set in England that I've read. The characters, and Charles II's court, live on the page.

Frances Stuart was part of the Stuart family in exile in France after the execution of Charles I of England and Cromwell's rise to power. The Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660 brought the Stuarts back to favor. Frances was a poor relative of Princess Henriette Anne Stuart, Charles II's sister, and she and her family were dependent on the good graces of the Princess and the Queen Mother. As much as Frances loved her cousin, Princess Henriette grew jealous when King Louis XIV attempted to seduce Frances.  After Frances refused the King, he, Henriette, and the Queen Mother forced her to go to England, insisting she attempt to seduce Charles, as they all had political games to play.

The dry facts do not do justice to this lively, emotional story of a beautiful woman caught up in the politics and hedonism of the Restoration Court in England. Frances Stuart tells her own story of the years in exile, the intrigue and seductions in both the French and English courts, and the man she came to love despite herself, Charles II. It's the story of a woman who was a pawn in the political games of two countries, but a woman who tried to be honorable, keeping a family secret that she didn't completely understand.

I found this novel more readable and less stiff than some of Philippa Gregory's books about the Tudors. If you're a fan of lush historical novels about the British rulers, you'll want to try Marci Jefferson's novel of the Stuarts, Girl on the Golden Coin. Step into the world of Frances Stuart, no longer remembered, but celebrated in her time, a woman so beautiful that kings fell in lust, and a country celebrated her beauty on its coins.

Marci Jefferson's website is www.MarciJefferson.com

Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson. Thomas Dunne. 2014. ISBN 9781250037220 (hardcover), 336p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I requested this book from the publisher, and was then asked to participate in a book blog tour.






Saturday, February 15, 2014

India Black and the Gentleman Thief by Carol K. Carr

Carol K. Carr brings back the "Madam of Espionage" in the fourth caper novel in the series, India
Black and the Gentleman Thief. It's another romp filled with interesting characters, and an unusual trio who work together to protect Queen Victoria's government.

India Black is the owner and madam at Lotus House, a high-class brothel in Victorian London. But, she has a secret role as a spy for Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. She was blackmailed into the role by a sexy spy, French, but she soon found out she has a knack for espionage. Together with a street urchin named Vincent, the trio takes on cases that reach from London to Scotland and anywhere else in the British Empire. This time, it's a case that starts right in India's house.

When one of India's clients, Colonel Mayhew, has an envelope dropped at her house, she's put out that he thinks of her house as a delivery point. But, she's more than put out when she and French are attacked by three thugs, and the envelope is stolen. They know the contents included a bill of lading, so she and French set off to find Mayhew. Instead, they find his body. Ignoring the police officer that suspects them, they end up at the docks looking for answers. They track down the shipping company listed on the bill of lading, but India isn't happy when they find the man behind the company. She once knew him as a gentleman thief. And, she's reluctant to turn in the man who stole a piece of her heart.

Filled with details of daily life in Victorian England, India Black and the Gentleman Thief is another romp through India Black's world. It's a historical mystery that offers traces of romance, and a great deal of humor provided by Vincent; the one woman who makes India cower, the Dowager Marchioness of Tullibardine; and India herself who acts as narrator. It's a step back in time to the days when a madam could be a spy for Her Majasty's empire.

Carol K. Carr's website is www.carolkcarr.com

India Black and the Gentleman Thief by Carol K. Carr. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425262481 (paperback), 312p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I received this copy to review it for ReadertoReader.com

Friday, February 14, 2014

What Are You Reading?

Happy Valentine's Day! So, are you reading something romantic, or a mystery, or something else today? I'm reading the latest India Black caper by Carol K. Carr, India Black and the Gentleman Thief. Do you want to tell us what you're reading?

Winners and Mysteries to Warm You Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of this week's contests. M.L. Rowland's Zero-Degree Murder goes to Mark B.of Santa Clarita, CA. Carol K. from Columbia, CT won Books, Cooks and Crooks by Lucy Arlington. And, Ice Cold Kill by Dana Haynes will go to Gloria D. from Oswego, IL. Rita W. of Newman, CA won the copy of Mariah Stewart's At the River's Edge. That book will be sent by TLC Book Tours. The other books will go out today.

Well, it's been so cold that I surrendered and gave away cold mysteries last week. This week, I have two cozy mysteries to keep you warm. How about a Southern Quilting mystery? It's Elizabeth Craig's Quilt Trip. Of course, even in this one, there's an ice storm. Beatrice Coleman, a quilter and retired folk art curator accompanies the Village Quilters to Doppled Hills, North Carolina to a meeting to pick someone to administer a quilting scholarship. But, an ice storm traps them for the night, and in the morning, the eccentric woman who called the meeting is found murdered. Shades of Agatha Christie in a mystery in which everyone is a suspect.


Or, maybe you appreciate something woven rather than quilted. Tapestry of Lies is Carol Ann Martin's latest Weaving mystery. This one is also set in North Carolina. Della Wright is very pleased when a celebrity designer places a large custom-fabric order at her weaving studio. Bunny Boyd's client is about to announce his candidacy for governor. But, the buzz is overshadowed by the murder of a local shop owner. When Della's friend becomes the suspect, she knows she must try to unravel the mystery.

Quilting or Weaving? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read either "Win Quilt Trip" or "Win Tapestry of Lies." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end next Thursday, Feb 20 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

At the River's Edge by Mariah Stewart

There's a reason why Mariah Stewart's Chesapeake Diaries books make the New York Times bestseller lists. They're addicting. All of the women in my family read this series, and I think I may actually have been the last one to finish the latest romance, At the River's Edge. This seventh book in the series is just as compelling as the earlier books. They're hard to put down.

Each book opens and closes with Grace Sinclair's diary entries. The owner and editor of the St. Dennis Gazette chronicles the arrivals, business openings, and romances in St. Dennis, Maryland, a tourist town on Chesapeake Bay. The townspeople are awaiting the wedding of Jesse Enright and Brooke Bowers. The engaged couple is pleased when Jesse's sister Sophie shows up in town. A lawyer like the others in her family, she flees to St. Dennis after she catches her boyfriend in the backseat of his car with another woman. Once she arrives in town, her brother and grandfather urge her to stay and join the family practice, Enright & Enright. But, Sophie has her eye on a rundown building. It had always been her dream to run a restaurant.

However, Jason Bowers had his eye on that same building. After his brother's death in Iraq, Jason sold his landscaping business in Florida, and moved to St. Dennis to be near his sister-in-law Brooke and her son. He's started another landscaping company, and even has a major project recreating the gardens at Sophie's grandfather's. He likes the looks of the latest Enright to show up in town, and thinks he finally met the woman of his dreams. But, neither Jason nor Sophie know they're trying to buy the same property in St. Dennis.

Mariah Stewart's St. Dennis is a charming town that continues to draw tourists, and readers. The townspeople and new arrivals, all the local shops, are appealing and welcoming. Each time a new novel comes out, it's a return to a comfortable community and old friends. The romances are always between strong independent women and equally strong interesting men. Maybe St. Dennis is a little like Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average".  And, really? That's not so bad in a comfortable romantic series.

*****
Because I'm participating in a TLC Blog tour for At the River's Edge, one lucky reader can win a copy of the book. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read "Win At the River's Edge." Please include your name and mailing address. Let's make this a Valentine's Day giveaway, and I'll announce the winner on Friday morning. You'll have just until 5 a.m. on Feb. 14 to enter the giveaway. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Mariah Stewart's website is www.mariahstewart.com

At the River's Edge by Mariah Stewart. Ballantine Books. 2014. ISBN 9780345538420 (paperback), 423p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy in order to participate in a TLC blog tour.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Well, it isn't often that I totally disagree with a book's jacket cover, and the plot description. A love story? Sort of, but not really. And, I started out thinking Anna Quindlen's Still Life with Bread Crumbs was another literary novel with little plot. Then I reconsidered. Quindlen's novel reflects her protagonist, photographer Rebecca Winter. Winter's photographs spoke to women, saying their daily lives were important. It's a message Rebecca herself lost for years. The little details of daily life are what's important.

At sixty, Rebecca sees her photography success as past success. Now, she's part of that sandwich generation with aging parents and a son. She's struggling to keep her Manhattan apartment, keep her mother in a nursing home, keep her father content with his caregiver, and, occasionally give her son some money. When she sublets her apartment and moves to a ramshackle cottage in the country, she's hoping to save some money and find a subject that means as much as her desperate photos when she was a young mother. Once again, she's a desperate woman, feeling as if her life is in the past.

Rebecca is totally unprepared for life in the country. It's the kindness of strangers that helps her through, beginning with a roofer named Jim Bates. He rids the cottage of a raccoon, brings firewood after she overpays for it, and finds a job for the photographer, taking pictures of eagles from a tree stand. Rebecca is bemused by the people she would have never met in New York; a clown who recognizes her; a woman who owns a tea shop. She doesn't know what to make of the crosses she comes across in the woods and meadows, or the dog that claims her. And, she doesn't understand the feelings of loss when her ambition collides with a history she doesn't know.

There is a love story in Anna Quindlen's Still Life with Bread Crumbs, but the book isn't designed as a romance. It's the story of a woman understanding her past, finding she still has a future at sixty, and learning she isn't alone. It's important to find the right people in life, and leave behind the people who destroy hope. Like Rebecca Winter's photographs, Still Life with Bread Crumbs shows the beauty in the details of daily life.

Anna Quindlen's website is www.AnnaQuindlen.com

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen. Random House. 2014. ISBN 9781400065752 (hardcover), 252p.

*****
FTC Full disclosure - Library book

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Books, Cooks, and Crooks by Lucy Arlington

Sometimes, despite the murders in cozy mysteries, it's just wonderful to escape to the small towns in these books. It's hard to resist Inspiration Valley, North Carolina in Lucy Arlington's Novel Idea mystery series. Who wouldn't want to live in "A tiny utopia of art and books and food"? But, as much as she loves the community, Lila Wilkins knows sometimes the town is disrupted by crime as in Books, Cooks, and Crooks.

Lila Wilkins is a literary agent in her late forties, working at the Novel Idea Literary Agency. The agency is the major sponsor and host for the town's Taste of the Town festival. Lila is excited that they're hosting some of their authors, celebrity chefs and cozy mystery authors. But, she doesn't realize how high maintenance those chefs are. "It's when the chefs all get together. The mix doesn't quite result in an explosion, but sparks do fly."

But, someone's explosion leads to murder. Lila, dating a police officer, trusts the police to find the killer. But, she's angry, and determined to help the police. The "Killer not only took the life of another human being...They also affected the festival, damaged the Arts Center, and cast a shadow of evil over Inspiration Valley." Lila has a valid excuse for her involvement.

I'll admit I knew who the killer was quite early in the book. However, that didn't spoil my enjoyment of this charming mystery. It's a pleasure to read about a mature amateur sleuth who doesn't hide information from the police, has realistic relationships with her mother, son, and the man she loves, and loves her job. There's also a mystery about a romantic figure in this book, a mystery that is solved in a beautiful scene.

And, what lover of books can resist a community that celebrates books? Jay, the bookstore owner says, "In whatever form it takes, the book will never disappear. Stories are too important to us. We can't live without them." Ellery Adams, half of the writing team of Syliva May and Adams who write under Lucy Arlington, has expressed that philosophy about story in other mysteries. In Books, Cooks, and Crooks, a bookstore owner and a literary agent share that understanding.

Mysteries, books, and food just go hand-in-hand. Lucy Arlington's Books, Cooks, and Crooks ties those elements together in a charming story.

Lucy Arlington's website is www.lucyarlington.com

Books, Cooks, and Crooks by Lucy Arlington. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425252246 (paperback), 295p.

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

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

"How do a million and a half people die with nobody knowing?" Chris Bohjalian's powerful novel, The Sandcastle Girls shows readers the Armenian genocide through two parallel stories, that of a young American woman living through it, and that of her granddaughter discovering the stories of her grandparents. But, we also see it through other eyes, all of them victims in their own ways.

Laura Petrosian was in her forties, a married novelist with two children, when a picture set her on the hunt for her grandparents' story. Her grandmother, Elizabeth Endicott, was from a proper Boston family when she accompanied her own father to Aleppo, Syria in 1915. They were volunteers as part of an aid mission, representing the Friends of Armenia. The Turks had killed Armenian men and deported the women and children. Elizabeth wasn't prepared to see all the starving, dying refugees. She also wasn't prepared to fall in love with Armen, an Armenian engineer who had fought the Turks, losing his brother, his wife and daughter in the Turkish slaughter.

The Sandcastle Girls combines historical elements, romance, and personal and national tragedy. For me, it was the ethnic tragedy and irony that overshadowed the book. In 1915, the Germans were allies of the Turks, however there were Germans who were not only appalled at the actions of the Turks, but, in this story, photographed the refugees in order to record the tragedy for posterity. In fact, the American consul said, "How the Germans can remain allies with the Turks is beyond me. No European nation would ever commit the sort of crimes that this regime is blithely committing right now."

Chris Bohjalian brings his tragic characters to life. Even the survivors suffered, carrying secrets to their graves. They were all victims. Laura Petrosian's discovery of her grandmother's letters and journals brought all of that home. She had never considered her Armenian ancestry. Her grandparents' story became a personal journey for her, a revelation that both Elizabeth and Armen had lives and secrets they never shared even with their own children. This is a fascinating story, a powerful story of victims and survival. At the same time, Elizabeth Endicott's story is an account of daily life in a war zone.

Chris Bohjalian's The Sandcastle Girls has a powerful message. He uses the novel and personal accounts to say "History does matter. There is a line connecting the Armenians and the Jews and the Cambodians and the Serbs and the Rwandans." And, each time, the world would rather avert its eyes. "How do a million and a half people die with nobody knowing?"

Chris Bohjalian's website is www.chrisbohjalian.com

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Doubleday. 2012. ISBN 9780385534796 (hardcover), 299p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Random Report

I do monthly book chats featuring books from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian. And, I've covered books from Macmillan before. Today, it's time to talk about forthcoming books from Random House because I received a terrific box containing ten of their publications. It's a nice looking group, but there's one I'm really excited about. I'll tell you which one when I get there.

Chris Beckett's Dark Eden won the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel of the year. Part parable, part coming-of-age novel, it's set on the alien, sunless planet called Eden, where 532 members of the Family wait for boats to return from the stars. But, young John Redlantern will abandon the old ways, venture into the Dark, and discover the truth about their world. (Release date is April 1)





Miranda Beverly-Whittemore's Bittersweet takes readers inside the Winslow dynasty, and shows it through the eyes of a young woman who hungers to belong. But, once Mabel Dagmar becomes an insider, she makes a discovery that leads to shocking violence and reveals the true source of the family's fortune. Now, Mabel has a terrible choice to make, expose the ugliness, and face expulsion from what she sees as paradise, or keep the secret, and redefine good and evil. (Release date is May 13)




Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Kai Bird brings us The Good Spy, the compelling portrait of Robert Ames. It's the story of the life and death of one of the most important operatives in CIA history - "a man who had he lived, might have helped heal the rift between Arabs and the West". But, the April 18, 1983 bomb that exploded outside the American embassy in Beirut killed 63 people, including Ames. (Release date is May 20)




Bestselling author Max Brooks tells the fictionalized story of the highly decorated historic black regiment, the Harlem Hellfighters in his graphic novel, The Harlem Hellfighters, illustrated by Caanan White. The 369th Infantry Regiment became one of the most successful, and least celebrated regiments of World War I, the first African American regiment mustered to fight the war. It's a story of courage, honor, and heart based on true events. (Release date is April 1)





Well, the title of the next book really says it's all. Jane Fonda's book is Being a Teen: Everything Teen Girls & Boys Should Know About Relationships, Sex, Love, Health, Identity & More. (Release date is March 4)








Peter Heller, the author of The Dog Stars, now brings us The Painter. It's the story of an artist trying to control his anger while trying to escape his violent past. Jim Stegner, a well-known artist, once shot a man in a bar. The man lived; Stegner served his time, and he's now living in Canada. He's changed his life to control his temper, but when he comes across a man beating a horse one day, everything changes. Stegner goes looking for the man, and then has to make sense of his actions. (Release date is May 6)

There's no cover image available for Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories. The author of The Giant's House has her first story collection in twenty years. There are nine stories centered on "a jagged space left by loss. (Release date is April 22)

Here's the book I'm most excited about, Ruth Reichl's fiction debut, Delicious! Yes, that Ruth Reichl, author of the memoirs Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples. First, I love the cover. And, there's a conversation with Ruth Reichl and Ann Patchett included at the end of the book. It's a food novel. What's not to anticipate? When Billie Breslin left California, she took a job at Delicious!, the most iconic food magazine in New York. When it abruptly closed, she accepted an interim job in the magazine's library, a job that led to a magical discovery. Billie finds the letters from a twelve-year-old to legendary chef James Beard written during World War II. The letters provide Billie with a deeper understanding of history, the history of food, and her own life. (Release date is May 6)

Alexander McCall Smith's The Forever Girl is out this week. It's a novel about love, following one's heart, and the unexpected places it may lead. Amanda and her husband David are raising their two children with other ex-pats on Grand Cayman Island. It's there that their daughter Clover falls in love with her best friend James. At the same time, Amanda realizes she's fallen out of love with David. When Clover and James leave the island for boarding school, Clover feels she may have lost him forever. It's a story of two couples, love and heartbreak. (Release date is Feb. 11)



And, the last novel is a sultry summer release, The Lemon Grove by Helen
Walsh. Called a "steamy pageturner", it's the story of a May-December affair from the woman's point of view. Jenn and Greg are enjoying the last days of their summer holiday in Majorca when their teenage daughter arrives with her boyfriend in tow. And, Jenn finds herself attracted to the reckless, mesmerizing Nathan. (Release date is July 8)

It's an interesting selection of books, too good to not share. Thanks to Random House for a tantalizing selection of books.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch

It takes a displaced southerner to bring New Yorkers together, but Sugar Wallace isn't so good at helping herself. Instead, the bees she has always tended decide it's time for Sugar to find someone in Sarah-Kate Lynch's charming novel, The Wedding Bees.

Sugar Wallace has been on the run for fifteen years. She left Charleston, South Carolina with only her bees. "Along with her manners, the accent she tried so hard to soften, a single china cup covered in blue daisies and a weathered box of essential oils, they were all she carried with her from her past." Each year, Sugar packs up her queen bee, this time Elizabeth the Sixth, and the other honey bees, and heads for a different location. At thirty-six, Sugar lands in Alphabet City in New York. She no sooner arrives than she stumbles across two men who will change her life. Theo Fitzgerald actually cushioned the blow when an older man who looked homeless, George Wainwright, fell. Both men would force Sugar to reexamine her life.

Theo immediately feels an attraction to Sugar, but Sugar, knowing what she did in Charleston, wants nothing to do with a man who causes such a strong reaction in her. Instead, she turns to changing the lives of the people in her apartment building, a little honey at a time. There are the two neighbors who never have anything good to say to each other; Nate, who only comes out on his balcony at night; Ruby, who moved out, away from her mother who sent her to hospitals and therapists each time Ruby collapsed, and Lola, who is desperate to keep her young son from continuously crying. Sugar knows that some attention, good manners, and a little honey will help all of them. Only George recognizes that Sugar herself needs help. Well, George and Elizabeth the Sixth. Elizabeth the Sixth knows she has a special purpose in life, and she'll use all her powers as queen bee to help Sugar find happiness.

The Wedding Bees really is "a novel of honey, love and manners". It's a pleasure to see the respect Sugar shows for George and the residents of her apartment building. Lynch's story is rich in characters. And, there's a rare tenderness between many of them, not so much romantic love, as a quality of caring for each other. These are not qualities often seen in novels, respect and tenderness. Looking for a feel-good book about a woman trying to change the world in her small way, one person at a time? You might not have even known you were looking for an engaging story about a determined queen bee. Sarah-Kate Lynch's The Wedding Bees is that delightful book.

Sarah-Kate Lynch's website is www.sarah-katelynch.com

The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch. William Morrow. 2013. ISBN 9780062252609 (paperback), 352p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book after I requested it.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Winners and an Icy Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of recent contests. Reine C. of Tucson, AZ won Sheila Connolly's Scandal in Skibbereen. Compound Murder by Bill Crider goes to Glen D of Yuba City, CA. And, Bill T. of St. Clair Shores, MI won Terry Shames' The Last Death of Jack Harbin. The books will go out in the mail today.

Well, if you can't beat the weather, join it. This week, I'm giving away two mysteries with cold Zero-Degree Murder is a debut mystery by M.L. Rowland. Search and rescue expert Gracie Kinkaid risks her life on a daily basis to save strangers. When she is called out on Thanksgiving to find four missing hikers, the trip turns deadly quickly due to a blizzard. When she and her team partner find just one of the group, it's Gracie's job to protect him, using all of her expertise with a killer in the mountains.
connections.


Would you prefer Dana Haynes' Ice Cold Kill? Daria Gibson is a woman with a deadly past as a former Shin-Bet agent now in exile in the U.S., and under FBI protection. But, she's a thriller junkie who can't resist an occasional freelance job as an operative. When she receives an anonymous tip-off that she's walking into an ambush, she discovers she's been set up. She's been linked to a terrorist, and now the U.S. intelligence community is out to get her.

Which mystery would you like to win, Zero-Degree Murder or Ice Cold Kill? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read either "Win Zero-Degree Murder" or "Win Ice Cold Kill." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, Feb. 13 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Lucy Arlington, Guest Blogger

Ellery Adams and Sylvia May team up to write the Novel Idea mysteries under the pseudonym Lucy Arlington. The stories feature Lila Wilkins, a forty-five-year-old unemployed journalist who finds her dream job working at a literary agency in Inspiration Valley, North Carolina. in the latest book in the series, Books, Cooks, and Crooks, Lila ends up in a story involving one of Arlington's favorite subjects. Today, I'd like to welcome Lucy Arlington as guest blogger.

*****
One of my favorite kinds of books to read is a cookbook. Reading a recipe allows my mind to envision the dish it will produce, almost taste and smell it too! I love to see the photographs and can picture myself making whatever delectable cake or casserole or cookie is depicted. To me, reading a cookbook allows me to dream about food without consuming the calories!

In light of that, it seems like a foregone conclusion that I would give my character, Lila Wilkins, a murder to solve that involves cookbooks, chefs, and food. My love of food is certainly evident Lila’s personality. She loves to cook and is an avid fan of the celebrity chefs she sees on television.

In “Books, Cooks, and Crooks,” Lila gets to meet some of those chefs. They are clients of A Novel Idea
Literary Agency, and have come to Inspiration Valley for a food festival. Lila and the agency have organized a celebrity chef event, cooking demonstrations, cookbook giveaways, and even a culinary writing contest.

But before the festival gets underway, one of the chefs dies in a kitchen explosion. When it becomes evident that this was a murder, Lila is determined to help her boyfriend, Police Officer Sean Griffiths, figure out which of the agency’s clients is a killer.

“Books, Cooks, and Crooks” is the third mystery in the Novel Idea Mystery series, set in the idyllic town of Inspiration Valley in the foothills of North Carolina. Other books in the series are “Buried in a Book” and “Every Trick in the Book.”

Bio:
Lucy Arlington is the nom de plume for the writing team of Sylvia May and Ellery Adams. As an amalgamated personality, she is an avid reader, cook, and gardener. If she had her way, she’d divide her time between preparing delectables in her kitchen, traveling the globe on her scooter, and sitting in a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee and a paperback until her legs cramped. Lucy is devoted to her husband and children – especially when they ply her with chocolate and gift cards to bookstores. Lucy’s third novel, “Books, Cooks, and Crooks” has just been released. Her first two novels in the Novel Idea Mystery Series, “Buried in a Book” and “Every Trick in the Book” were both New York Times Bestsellers. Visit her website at www.lucyarlington.com.
Sylvia May is the author of “The Unraveling of Abby Settel” and the soon to be released “Breathing Space.” Visit her website at www.sylviamay.com.

Ellery Adams is the author of Books By the Bay Mysteries and the Charmed Pie Shoppe Mysteries and the forthcoming Book Retreat Mysteries. Visit her website at www.elleryadamsmysteries.com.
*****
Once again, we're lucky enough to have a copy of Books, Cooks, and Crooks for a giveaway. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read "Win Books, Cooks, and Crooks." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, Feb. 13 at 6 PM CT. 
Books, Cooks, and Crooks by Lucy Arlington. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. 9780425252246 (paperback), 304p.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

What Are You Reading?

The weather was lousy yesterday, and we were really lucky it's now a little lighter at 5 p.m. so we didn't have to drive home after dark. I never did like driving in snow, ice or slush, but after all those years in Florida and Arizona, I'm certainly not comfortable driving in nasty weather. So, too tense to settle down and read last night. I'm reading Sarah-Kate Lynch's  The Wedding Bees. But, I'd like to know what you're reading.


Tell me what you're reading during this worse winter in memory.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Scandal in Skibbereen by Sheila Connolly

Cozy mystery readers may pick up Sheila Connolly's Scandal in Skibbereen just because it's a
mystery. But, once you fall for Connolly's characters and the Irish beauty of the village of Leap, you might return for other reasons. She's right in saying other cozies are set in American small towns, but no one had captured the small towns of Ireland. Connolly's descriptions are enough to make anyone plan a trip to County Cork.

Maura Donovan has only been in Leap in County Cork for three months, but she already owns a house and Sullivan's Pub. She arrived in Ireland, not knowing what to expect. She certainly didn't expect a pushy American to show up in the pub, demanding that someone help her find a Van Dyke masterpiece that might or might not exist. In fact, if Maura hadn't stepped in, it's likely that no one would have helped Althea Melville. She certainly didn't help her own cause by her rude treatment of others. Once she learns that the Townsend family might own a lost Van Dyke portrait, she's determined to push her way into Mycroft House. It's only natural that Althea would be a suspect when a gardener is found murdered soon after she learns the estate's location. Althea is obnoxious enough that most people wouldn't care if she's the primary suspect. But, as a newcomer from America herself, Maura wants to teach Althea a lesson, while finding out who is behind the death of an innocent man. Maura's willing to join forces with an artist and the heir to the estate to dig into the past. Somewhere there may be a story about a portrait.

Scandal in Skibbereen captures the beauty of small towns in Ireland, the closeness of the community, the "invisible network that seemed to link everyone". Those links, though, often have traces of resentment. Memories are long, and the townspeople whose ancestors worked as servants in the manor sometimes view the residents of the manor as high and mighty, thinking they're better than others. Sheila Connolly brings those characters to life, and there's a great deal of promise of future growth in the stories of Maura Donovan and her friends and neighbors.

However, as much as I love the setting of Leap, and all of the regular characters, I do have a bone to pick with Connolly. Without giving anything away, I don't think she plays fair with the reader when it comes to the resolution. It's just a warning. Readers will forgive her once because of the richness of the setting and the wonderful people she creates. Scandal in Skibbereen comes alive with the charm and beauty of Ireland. But, charm only goes so far. A mystery author needs to resolve the story appropriately so readers won't complain. Just a reminder, for all the future County Cork mysteries I hope to read.

Sheila Connolly's website is www.SheilaConnolly.com

Scandal in Skibbereen by Sheila Connolly. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425252505 (paperback), 294p.

(And, don't forget I'm giving away a copy of Scandal in Skibbereen. See Monday's blog for details.
*****
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Sheila Connolly, Guest Blogger

Sheila Connolly's County Cork mystery series was one of my favorite new series of 2013. It's a pleasure to see that Scandal in Skibbereen finds Maura Donovan still in Leap, a small town in Ireland. Sheila certainly does bring Ireland to life in the pages of her books. It might be one of the reasons my sister and I are planning a trip there for 2015. Today, it's my pleasure to allow Sheila to talk about Ireland and her books. Thank you, Sheila.
__________________________

I fell in love with Ireland the second day I was there.

Not the first day. When my husband and I took our daughter to England and Wales, we tacked on Ireland.  After all, my father’s parents both came from there, and it was so close, how could we not?

We stepped off a plane and headed for the place my grandmother was born—and of course we got lost.  Like most Americans we didn’t realize that driving in Ireland consisted mainly of following winding two-lane roads (on the wrong side) and avoiding the occasional sheep in the road.  Signs are few and far between, and if you ask for instructions you’re usually told something like “turn left at the sixth lane, and if you go past the creamery you’ve gone too far.” While we did finally find the tiny townland we were looking for, it was not a promising start.

Then we set off again for the village of Leap, a tiny place in West Cork overlooking Glandore Harbor on the south coast, a few miles from where my father’s father was born.  By the time we arrived it was getting dark, and it had started raining—hard.  We stopped at the hotel (the only one in town) and all eight of its rooms were booked by fishermen, but they sent us around the corner to a family who had a couple of rooms available. Then we went back to the hotel for dinner, which was everything we’d ever heard about Irish food: grey meat, mashed potatoes and carrots, all swimming in murky liquid. It kept raining.

Tired and damp and discouraged, after dinner we retreated to our room and went to bed. The next morning I was the first to wake up, and I slid out of bed and pulled back the curtains to find a view of sunshine and sparkling water with gliding swans, and cows grazing on the hill, and I almost cried.  That’s when I fell in love with Ireland.

And if that wasn’t enough, I discovered that the pub across the street was called Connolly’s. That’s the place that became Sullivan’s pub, the heart of Buried in a Bog.

But it took ten years to get that book published.  I hadn’t even started writing when first saw the pub,  but the village made a lasting impression on me, and I used the setting for the second book I ever wrote a couple of years later, with the pub at its center (the less said about that first book, the better).  That book never sold, but I refused to give up on it: I rewrote it and changed the major characters not once but twice, but never the setting.  Third time’s the charm, it seems: Buried in a Bog was published in 2013 and became a best seller.

Why do I write about Ireland? I write cozy mysteries, which is what I’ve always loved to read. Most cozies are set in small towns, but American cozy writers hadn’t really ventured abroad with their stories. But since most of Ireland (with the exception of the biggest cities) is one small town, where everybody knows everyone else, and their entire family history, I thought it was perfect for cozies. 
I once told someone that visiting Ireland was putting on an old shoe: it’s like slipping into something that just fits right, like it’s been yours forever and knows your foot. Ireland felt like home, even though I’d never seen it before. And I keep going back.

My main character, Maura Donovan, was born in Boston and raised by her widowed Irish-born grandmother.  She has no interest in Ireland, having seen her share of down-and-out immigrants in Boston. But her grandmother insists that Maura visit Ireland, as her last wish, so Maura goes reluctantly, and there she finds a home and relatives she never knew she had and friends—in short, more than she ever expected. In fact, there’s one point in Buried in a Bog when Maura is overwhelmed by events and is reduced to rare tears, and she demands, “why is everybody being so nice to me?” She’s angry and confused, and unable to handle simple kindness and others looking out for her, a near-stranger. But that’s the way it is in Ireland, particularly if you have any Irish in you.

By the second book, Scandal in Skibbereen, Maura has begun to settle in. The book opens with the arrival of pushy New Yorker Althea Melville, who’s searching for a lost painting, and she can’t understand why everybody isn’t jumping to help her, and she thinks she has to deceive them to get what she wants. It falls to Maura to explain that things don’t work like that in Ireland; people are more than willing to help you, but you have to ask, not demand. By the end of the book even Althea has come around to that point of view.

There’s only one problem with writing murder mysteries set in Ireland:  few murders take place there (except in Dublin). I met with a sergeant at the local police (garda) station, who told me that they’d had all of three murders in their district in the past decade, and in each of those cases they’d known who did it.  I apologized to him for inflating their crime rate, at least on paper.

What I enjoy most about writing this series is exploring the contrast between insider and outsider, the past and the present, the old and the new. You find all of these side by side in Ireland, and sometimes I have to shake myself and wonder, what decade am I in? The townland where my grandmother was born is still using the mail box installed during Queen Victoria’s reign, and the church holiday bazaar is still raffling off a truckload of firewood. Time seems slower there. The nights are darker and quieter.  It’s beautiful and peaceful, and, yes, there are plenty of rainbows.


I’m still in love with the place. I hope I can let readers see what I see there.

*****
Sheila, you succeed in letting me see what you see in Ireland. And, I've fallen in love with the country via books and movies. So that others might have that opportunity, I have a copy of Scandal in Skibbereen to give away. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read "Win Scandal in Skibbereen." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. You have until Thursday night, Feb. 6 at 6 PM CT to enter the giveaway. Good luck!

Sheila Connolly's website is www.sheilaconnolly.com.

Scandal in Skibbereen by Sheila Connolly. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425252505 (paperback), 304p.