Saturday, February 28, 2015

April Treasures in My Closet - Part 1

Is it just me, or did February seem to go on forever? Snow, cold, ice. Bah, humbug. One more reason to anticipate all of the books coming out in April. Spring! Will it ever be warm enough to open a window and smell spring while we read? I have a ton of books to suggest for April reading, including a few nonfiction. (We all know it's usually fiction on my TBR piles.) So many books, that, once again, the treasures are split in two posts.

Cynthia Barnett is an environmental and science journalist. Her book, Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, is the first book to tell the story of rain. The account begins four billion years ago, and builds to the storms of climate change. Along the way, Barnett shows rain as a unifying force, telling the history of rain, and using the book as a travelogue. (Release date is April 21.)

OK, speak up if you love the cover of Rebecca Barry's book as much as I do. Recipes for a Beautiful Life is "A Memoir in Stories". Barry and her husband moved to upstate New York to start their family, but, as always with those who move to an old house, their dream didn't turn out as expected. The book "blends heartwarming, funny, authentically told stories about the messiness of family life, a fearless examination of the anxieties of creative work, and sharp-eyed observations of the pressures that all women face." (Release date is April 7.)

In Lori Benson's The Wood's Edge, cultures collide on the New York frontier of 1757. It's home to the Oneida tribe and British colonists. When Major Reginald Aubrey swaps his stillborn son for the white son of an Oneida mother, he makes a choice that will haunt the lives of everyone involved. (Release date is April 21.)

Kate Bolick's Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own examines the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single. The book combines memoir with cultural exploration to examine why the author, along with over 100 million American women, remains unmarried. (Release date is April 21.)

I don't have time to review every book I receive, but I will be reading and reviewing James O. Born's Scent of Murder. I'm looking forward to the novel that W.E.B. Griffin calls "A gritty, realistic look at the men, women, and dogs in police K-9 units." Deputy Tim Hallett was tossed from the detective bureau after using questionable tactics while catching a child molester. Now, assigned to a special K-9 unit with the best partner in the world, a Belgian Malinois named Rocky, he uncovers the scent of a predator, one who seems connected to the case that destroyed his career. (Release date is April 7.)

Susan M. Boyer's first Liz Talbot mystery, Lowcountry Boil won both the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and the Daphne du Maurier Award. Lowcountry Boneyard is the third in the series. The twenty-three-year-old heiress to a Charleston fortune disappeared a month before her father hires private investigator Liz Talbot to find her. Liz and the Charleston Police Department believe she left because her father was too overbearing. But, family secrets and a ghost may reveal the truth. (Release date is April 21.)

A June of Ordinary Murders is a mystery debut that brings 1880s Dublin to life. Conor Brady, the former editor of The Irish Times, introduces Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow, investigating an "ordinary" crime. The Dublin Metropolitan Police classified crime in two classes; political crimes were seen as "special", and theft, robbery, and murder were "ordinary". But, it isn't long before Swallow's murder investigation suggests high-level involvement, leading to the navigation of political waters. (Release date is April 21.)

In Susanna Calkins' historical mystery, The Masque of a Murderer, a printer's apprentice learns a dangerous secret. In 17th century England, Lucy Campion is now a printer's apprentice. When she accompanies the local magistrate's daughter to the home of a severely injured Quaker to record his dying words, the man reveals he was pushed into the path of a horse because of a secret he recently uncovered. When Lucy and her friends search for the truth, they may find their investigation more dangerous than any of them had imagined. (Release date is April 14.)

Cold Trail is Janet Dawson's eleventh mystery featuring PI Jeri Howard. Her current missing persons' case is a personal one; her brother, Brian is missing. She thought his life was in great shape. But, she discovers there were problems in his marriage and with his job. And, two police detectives think Brian may have been involved in a homicide. It's time to find her brother. (Release date is April 7.)

Brendan Duffy's House of Echoes is an atmospheric debut thriller. When Ben and Caroline Tierney moved to the village of Swannhaven in upstate New York, they thought they were starting a new life with their eight-year-old son, Charlie. But, it isn't long before strange things begin to happen, and the family's dream is about to become a nightmare. (Release date is April 14.)

Eli Sharpe is an ex-pro baseball player turned private investigator who investigates cases related to his former profession. In Max Everhart's latest mystery, Split to Splinters, he looks into a case of family dynamics when Jim Honeycutt's baseball commemorating his three-hundredth career win goes missing. And, an anonymous note points to six females, Honeycutt's four daughters, their mother, or their mother's best friend. Even Eli, familiar with human treachery, isn't prepared for what he finds in this case. (Release date is April 1.)

Viper Wine, based on actual events, is Hermione Eyre's first novel. Venetia Stanley was the great beauty of seventeenth century England, inspiring Ben Jonson and Van Dyck. But, now that she's married, she's no longer adored, and she seeks a remedy. When an apothecary sells her "viper wine", a strange potion that is addicting and powerful, the ladies of the court of Charles I soon look unnaturally youthful. But, there's a terrible price to be paid, as science clashes with magic, and puritans clash with the monarchy. (Release date is April 14.)

Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, now examines Huntington's disease in her latest novel, Inside the O'Briens. Joe O'Brien, a respected Boston police officer of only forty-four is also a devoted husband and father. But, his strange episodes of disorganized thinking and uncharacteristic temper outbursts lead to a diagnosis of Huntington's disease, a lethal disease with no treatment or cure. And, each of Joe's four adult children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease. While Joe's symptoms worsen, and he struggles to maintain hope, his children have to decide to take the simple test that will reveal their future, or live their lives "at risk". (Release date is April 7.)

Margaret Grace sends her characters to my favorite city in Manhattan in Miniature. Gerry Porter and her granddaughter Maddie go to New York City for a huge crafts fair. They get to work on making miniatures, solving crimes, and seeing Rockefeller Center and Radio City. But someone doesn't want to see them make it safely home to California. (Release date is April 7.)

What You Left Behind is Samantha Hayes' latest thriller, a story that explores the devastating aftermath of suicide. The rural village of Radcote has just begun to heal two years after a terrifying rash of teenage suicides. Now, it appears that that nightmare once again threatens the community. When Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher takes a vacation to Radcote to visit her sister, she becomes determined to discover the truth behind the deaths, and find answers that might help her own nephew. (Release date is April 14.)

Reykjavik Nights is a prequel to Arnaldur Indridason's series featuring Inspector Erlendur. The tenth volume in the series finds Erlendur a young, inexperienced detective walking beat on the streets in Reykjavik, encountering routine traffic accidents, theft, domestic violence, and an unexplained death. When Erlendur is the only one who cares about the death of a tramp, he's dragged into a strange, dark underworld. (Release date is April 21.)

Enough for today? Come back tomorrow for the second half of April Treasures in My Closet. In the meantime, let me know which of these books appear to you to be true treasures.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Winners and A Give Me a "B" Giveaway

I thought it was funny that both this week's winners are named Lisa. Lisa G. from Pensacola Beach, FL won the copy of Vicki Delany's Under Cold Stone. Jeffrey Siger's Sons of Sparta is going to Lisa W. from Rochester, IN. I'll put them in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm giving away mysteries with authors whose names begin with B. One Potion in the Grave is the most recent Magic Potion mystery by Heather Blake. Carly Bell Hartwell's love potions are always in demand in Hitching Post, Alabama. But, when a childhood friend returns to town to settle a score with a senator, and ends up dead, Carly Bell vows to find her friend's killer.

Or, maybe you'd like to win M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin mystery, Something Borrowed, Someone Dead. Gloria French was a jolly widow who moved to the Cotswold hills. But, she had a nasty habit of borrowing things and not bringing them back. When she ends up dead, the Parish councilor hires Agatha Raisin to lead the murder investigation. And, as Agatha's investigation goes on, she finds herself a killer's target.

You can enter to win one of the titles, or both. I need separate entries, though. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win One Potion" or "Win Something Borrowed." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will enter Thursday, March 5 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott

Gumption. A marvelous, old-fashioned word, isn't it? And, it beautifully describes the strength of some of the characters in Kate Alcott's novel A Touch of Stardust. Julie Crawford may be a green newcomer when she arrives in Hollywood with dreams, but a couple friends help her on her way, including a star who becomes a role model, Carole Lombard.

1938 and 1939 were magical years in Hollywood with the making of Gone with the Wind. Fresh from her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana after graduating from Smith College, Julie Crawford lands a job in the publicity department at the Selznick studio where Atlanta went up in flames, and David O. Selznick was searching for his Scarlett O'Hara. Julie isn't there to be an actress, though. Her ambition is to be a screenwriter. She finds her own touches of magic on the set, though. She meets Andy Weinstein, an assistant producer, and Carole Lombard. When Lombard takes Julie under her wing, and hires her as an assistant, Julie finds herself with an insider's view of the truth behind the glamour, a view of Carole's love for Clark Gable, and an unexpected mentor.

It wasn't all stardust and magic in those years, though. For a time, Lombard and Gable waited for his divorce. There were tears and tension on the set of Gone with the Wind, as Selznick fired directors, and shut down filming. The novel shows racism, racial and religious prejudice. And, all of the tension extends into the relationship between Julie and Andy, as he works on the set, and worries about his relatives in Europe. But, Julie continues to fight for her dream, and with Carole Lombard's guidance, to fight for her relationship with Andy.

Kate Alcott's novel contains clouds, with the overshadowing war, and, the future of the Lombard/Gable relationship for those who know Carole Lombard's fate. There's sorrow mixed with stardust for Julie as well. The book itself is quietly magical, as it brings Hollywood in those years to life, as seen through the eyes of an ambitious young woman. Her starry eyes grow to see the realism behind the glamorous sets of Gone with the Wind, behind the scenes in other studios, and behind glamorous Hollywood relationships. Alcott's characters are well-rounded, created in vivid detail, particularly her two females, Julie Crawford and Carole Lombard.

A Touch of Stardust is a perfect title. Julie's life is touched by all the magic surrounding Gone with the Wind, all the magic surrounding Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, and the magic of Hollywood. There's romance amidst the day-to-day life of the studios in 1938 and 1939. And, there's truly a touch of stardust in that beautiful connection between Julie and her mentor, the woman who steered her through a relationship and the hullabaloo of the studio world, Carole Lombard. It's that relationship that makes this book stand out.

Kate Alcott's website is

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott. Doubleday. 2015. ISBN 9780385539043 (hardcover), 304p.

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Snow Way Out by Christine Husom

Here's an unusual premise. Christine Husom's mystery, Snow Way Out, features  a snow globe shop in a small town in Minnesota. It will be interesting to see how this series develops, with a snow globe representing part of the mysterious elements in a crime in this story.

Cami Brooks is back home after a scandal in Washington, D.C. Now, she's managing the snow globe shop owned by her parents, one that's connected to a coffee shop run by Pinky, one of her best friends. Together, the two set up a class for people to learn how to make snow globes, but the class ends on a low note. It seems a man who broke into their friend Erin's house is back in town. And, a few too many people in the class had ties to him - his ex-wife, his girlfriend, and, of course, Erin. But, that wasn't the most unusual part of the evening. After everyone leaves, Cami finds a snow globe she's never seen, a scene of a man on a park bench. Then, when she leaves the shop, she finds that same scene in the park, except the man is dead. And, Cami and all of her friends could be considered suspects because the victim was the newly released burglar. When the assistant police chief seems a little skeptical of Cami's snow globe story, she decides to do some investigating of her own.

Sometimes, the first mystery is a series seems less mystery and more set-up for future books. That's the case with Snow Way Out. This book serves to introduce the characters, the setting, and a possible love interest. Cami seems a little too impulsive, and at times, acts in ways that I would normally call "TSTL", "Too Stupid To Live". But, I'm willing to give her a break, and wait for the next book. When an amateur sleuth is the primary suspect in the first story in a series, they often act rashly. We'll see what happens in future books.

I liked Cami, her friends, the assistant police chief, and Cami's family. I'll be interested to see further developments in the Snow Globe mysteries. Snow Way Out shows potential, provided Cami is more cautious in future books.

Christine Husom's website is

Snow Way Out by Christine Husom. Berkley Prime Crime. 2015. ISBN 978042520806 (paperback), 292p.

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What Are You Reading?

Hmmm. Talking to Mom for an hour and a half, or finishing my book? I went with talking with Mom, which I'd always do. (I told her the other day she could call in the middle of a Duke game, and she wouldn't ever be interrupting.) So, I'm halfway through Snow Way Out, the first in a mystery series by Christine Husom. The manager of a curio shop that specializes in snow globes finds a snow globe on her shelf, picturing a man on a park bench. After she locks up and walks through the park, she finds a man dead, posed in the same position as the snow globe showed.

Did you finish a book last night, or are you partway through one? Let us know what you're reading.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Ghost and Mrs. Mewer by Krista Davis

If you're looking for a cozy mystery series with a charming setting, you can't do any better than Krista Davis' Paws & Claws mysteries. The setting in pet-friendly Wagtail, Virginia is fun and appealing. And, The Ghost and Mrs. Mewer, the second in the series capitalizes on all of the fun with the "Howloween" celebration and the ghost-seeking Apparition Apprehenders.

Holly Miller hasn't even unpacked from her move to Wagtail, but her grandmother, her Oma, needs her help at the Sugar Maple Inn. The lobby is swarming with people as the Apparition Apprehenders Ghost Team arrive, hoping to tape some ghostly appearances in town, particularly at the creepy Wagtail Springs Hotel. Before they can even settle in, there are some strange lights at the Sugar Maple Inn, lights that skeptic Holly can't explain. She can understand, though, why no one seems to like Mallory Gooley, who claims to be an author and girlfriend of a local resident associated with the Apparition Apprehenders. But, Mark Belinski doesn't seem to have a romantic interest in her, and all of the ghost team seem annoyed by the intrusive Mallory.

There are all kinds of ghost stories in Wagtail, including the story of Becca Wraith, who once lived in the house that became the Wagtail Springs Hotel. But, no one expected Mallory to be found drowned at the hotel, dressed as Becca. While the local doctor proclaims it an accidental drowning, Holly and local police officer Dave Quinlan, aren't so sure. There are too many people who were angry at Mallory. Holly, sympathetic to an orphan who had no one to demand answers, teams up with her animal friends and hotel staff to find a killer.

The "Howloween" celebration adds to the atmosphere of this enjoyable mystery. But, it's Wagtail itself, along with the pets that are welcome everywhere in the town, that makes this series shine. And, it appears that the animals are nothing more than dogs and cats behaving normally, but they aid Holly Miller in the search for answers. The town, and the Sugar Maple Inn, are quaint settings that will appeal to animal lovers. And, this time, in The Ghost and Mrs. Mewer, the search for ghosts and ghost stories will appeal to readers as well. Krista Davis' Paws & Claws mysteries are engaging stories.

Krista Davis' website is

The Ghost and Mrs. Mewer by Krista Davis. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425262566 (paperback), 301p.

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Played by the Book by Lucy Arlington

I'll admit I knew early on who did it in Lucy Arlington's latest Novel Idea mystery, Played by the Book. That didn't spoil the enjoyment of the story, though. This series featuring a literary agent is a favorite, probably because of all the discussion of books.

Although her boss at the Novel Idea Literary Agency may be thrilled with the return of a local boy, a successful television personality, literary agent Lila Wilkins is horrified when she's told they put her little cottage on the garden tour. Damian York is the author of Perfect Outdoor Spaces, the first in a series of gardening books. Lila is to plan the gala event, and the garden tour will end at her house. At least that was the plan, until Lila's son digs up a skull while helping with the gardening.

Now, Lila is juggling her day job at the literary agency, her planning for Damian's book signing and gala presentation, while wondering who the girl was who was buried in her yard. And, then her Mama, the Amazing Althea, a self-proclaimed psychic, sees danger for the family.

Even if the killer was easy to guess, Arlington's books are welcoming mysteries. It's a series with a great cast of characters, beginning with Lila's family, and extending to the local business people and the literary agency staff. But, it's the setting that is the main draw, a quaint little town in North Carolina called Inspiration Valley. The town that was once a draw for free thinkers suffered through a recession, and then welcomed the Novel Idea Literary Agency. Re-inventing itself, the town now revolves around literary themes.

Played by the Book, the latest mystery by Lucy Arlington, means a return to Inspiration Valley, and a literary world.

Lucy Arlington's website is

Played by the Book by Lucy Arlington. Berkley Prime Crime. 2015. ISBN 9780425276631 (paperback), 310p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, with no promise of a review.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Winners and A Favorites Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the Rhys Bowen/Tasha Alexander giveaway. Karen B. from Bloomington, MN won The Edge of Darkness by Bowen. AA. from Bellevue, NE won The Counterfeit Heiress. I admitted to both winners that I'm a wimp when it comes to winter. We're supposed to have lousy weather this weekend (who isn't?), and I'll mail the books when I finally leave the house.

This week, I'm giving away books by two of my favorite authors who also happen to be Poisoned Pen Press authors. Along with her new Lighthouse Library series for Penguin, Vicki Delany also writes the Constable Molly Smith mysteries, published by Poisoned Pen Press. In Under Cold Stone, Molly's mother took a vacation with Chief Constable Paul Keller. But, Keller's son soon becomes a murder suspect. Keller can't investigate. That doesn't mean Molly can't show up to lend her mother support, and maybe poke around a little.

From British Columbia to Greece. Jeffrey Siger's Sons of Sparta, the latest Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis mystery, focuses on the Mani, where Kaldis' assistant, Detective Yiannis Kouros is summoned home by his uncle. But, when Kouros' uncle is killed, both men fear there will be a new cycle of revenge and violence in the area. Once again, Siger brings Greece and Greek culture to life.

I have ARCs of both books to give away. You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Under Cold Stone" or "Win Sons of Sparta." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Feb. 26 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What Are You Reading?

I drove to St. Louis yesterday for a concert, and home today, so I didn't have time to finish my book. I'm reading Lucy Arlington's Played by the Book, the latest Novel Idea Mystery. It's a fun series about a literary agent in a small North Carolina town.

Since I'll be on the road early today, and home later, I won't be around in the morning. So, feel free to talk amongst yourselves. Tell us all what you're reading, please. What are you settling in to read on a cold winter weekend?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Vicki Delany and Kate Carlisle for Authors @ The Teague

No, I'm not back in Arizona, but a little of my heart will always be there. And, a piece of it will always be with the Authors @ The Teague program. Vicki Delany and Kate Carlisle recently appeared at the library. Thanks to Stephanie Rumsey for continuing the program, Anna Caggiano for writing the recap, and Judy Coon for the photos. I hope you enjoy the recap!

Vicki Delany and Kate Carlisle (courtesy Judy Coon)

At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 5, the Velma Teague Library was pleased to welcome two mystery authors courtesy of the Poisoned Pen Bookstore. Librarian Stephanie Rumsey introduced Vicki Delany, president of the Canadian Crime Writers Association, and Kate Carlisle, a past winner of the Golden Heart and Daphne du Maurier Awards and a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America.

The serendipitous convergence of lighthouses and wine is largely responsible for Kate and Vicki’s joint book tour. Displaying their respective book covers to the audience, Vicki pointed out a certain lighthouse-shaped similarity. Meeting at the Malice Domestic conference last year, the two authors shared dinner – and the aforementioned wine – and decided that, since both of their upcoming mysteries involved lighthouses, it would be a great idea to promote their books together. Unlike most decisions made under the influence of wine, it actually did turn out to be a great idea in the sober light of morning, and they’ve been enjoying themselves ever since. After all, as Vicki dryly (pun intended) observed, where better to talk about coastal lighthouses than the desert of Arizona?

By Book or by Crook, Vicki’s 16th published novel, is a bit of a departure for her. Her 15 other
novels, 10 of which have been published by Poisoned Pen press, include the Constable Molly Smith series (a fairly traditional police procedural), the more humorous Klondike Gold Rush mysteries, and various standalone psychological suspense novels.

By Book or by Crook, however, is a traditional cozy mystery. The break from human angst and tragedy proved to be tremendous fun to write. Moreover, it’s the only book she’s written under a pseudonym. This is actually a Penguin work-for-hire series, in which the publisher provides a setting (a fictional library inside the real Bodie Island Lighthouse, North Carolina) a vague idea of the main character (librarian Lucy Richardson), and the bare-bones concept of the plot. Since they own the copyright, the work is authored by “Eva Gates,” and Vicki’s name doesn’t appear anywhere. When an audience member later asked if she or the publisher came up with the pseudonym, she noted that it was a collaborative and surprisingly difficult effort, since they wanted to come up with a name that was easy to spell, but not already on Amazon (her first choice was taken by the author of a child’s potty-training book). She ended up naming “Eva” after her grandmother Eva – not the venerable Eva Gates preserves company in Bigfork, Montana.

The talk then moved to Kate’s Fixer-Upper series, This Old Homicide, which revisits Shannon Hammer, a building contractor specializing in renovating Victorian homes in Lighthouse Cove. While Bodie Island is a real lighthouse (sans a library), Lighthouse Cove is a mashup of two towns on the Northern California coast: the Victorian National Historic Site of Ferndale and the lovely coastal city of Mendocino. Kate admitted that her choice of Mendocino might have been influenced by the fact she likes to have an excuse to go there for research. Since they’re set in a small town, the two books in this series have been a very different writing experience from her Bibliophile Mysteries, set in San Francisco.

Shannon’s father, Jack Hammer (insert audience groan here – Kate swears she didn’t choose Shannon’s surname just to make that pun), originally ran the company. When Shannon’s mother died, her father began taking her and her sister to the construction sites. They were essentially adopted by the workers, who gave them gifts like little pink tools and little pink hardhats, culminating in her father’s gift of a very nice set of grown-up pink Craftsman tools when she took over the company. On the plus side, the distinctive color meant that none of the men would abscond with her tools. Unfortunately, when they were used as murder weapons in the first book, it also made her a prime suspect.

In her new book, Shannon’s very dear neighbor is found dead. A teller of tall tales, he may or may not have found a necklace from the wreck of a 150-year-old Spanish clipper ship that sank with a princess and a fortune in jewels onboard. Could it be a motive for murder?

Vicki Delany (courtesy Judy Coon)
Vicki then discussed By Book or by Crook’s protagonist, Lucy Richardson, a Harvard librarian from a wealthy, influential Boston family. Following the collapse of her engagement to her long-term boyfriend (Vicki noted rather gleefully that she left him kneeling in a restaurant), she escaped to her aunt in the Outer Banks to laze around in the summer sun and contemplate her future. This soul-searching ended when her aunt introduced Lucy to the director of the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library (pronounced “body,” leading me to hope that a future title will be “The Bodie in the Lighthouse,” because why waste a good pun).

After Lucy is hired, the library board chair is found murdered during a special evening reception in honor of their important summer exhibition of Jane Austen first editions. Even worse (for book lovers, at least), someone starts stealing the Austens one at a time in the order in which they were written. Lucy is forced to turn amateur sleuth to discover why someone is out to destroy the library. Lighthouses can turn a pretty profit by charging admission (and even becoming a bed and breakfast, as an audience member pointed out) – is there a financial motive to the crimes?

Vicki doesn’t believe in writing what you know, as the old axiom says, but rather writing what you want to know. So when she was offered this book set in the Outer Banks, she agreed despite never having visited. She quickly changed that, driving down the first week of October, 2012. In a textbook case of bad timing, she pulled up to the entrance of Cape Hatteras National Park just as a brown-uniformed ranger was closing the gates for the government sequester. All her pleading (“But I’m writing a book! I drove all the way down here just to see this lighthouse!”) was in vain. Fortunately, the trip itself wasn’t in vain, since she toured the similarly-designed Currituck Beach Lighthouse, owned by the conservation society. Currituck is a charming, tiny town with a bookstore, well-known for wild horses (which she didn’t see). She was also able to tour the beaches and the nearby town of Nags Head to get a firsthand feel for the setting. In the book, Lucy’s cousin owns a bakery, while the cousin’s fiancé owns a restaurant overlooking the sound; though both are fictional, they’re based on real places.

During her return trip last September, she climbed the 210 steps to the top of the Bodie Island Lighthouse (which isn’t nearly big enough to contain a library, alas). In addition, she drove out to the marshy walking trails at 7 p.m. to see what time the light turned on, taking lovely, spooky pictures. On her drive back, she narrowly missed hitting a deer that jumped in front of the car. This inspired a sequence where Lucy is being pursued on the road leading to the lighthouse, only to be saved by a deer jumping out in front of her pursuer. Vicki would never have expected deer to live in such a sandy, sparsely vegetated area, so she never would have thought of that plot point if it hadn’t happened to her. Even with all the online resources available today, you just can’t beat the hands-on research of a site visit. If you plan to follow in her footsteps, though, keep in mind that everything shuts down in the winter months. Alternatively, Kate pointed out that you can tour one of several lighthouses in California, instead.

Agreeing on the importance of this kind of research, Kate marveled about how often she’ll stumble across something she had no idea existed. In the Bibliophile Mystery due to come out in June, Ripped from the Pages, Brooklyn the bookbinder returns to her parents’ Napa commune for the excavation of a trendy wine cave tasting room. In an act of heroic self-sacrifice, Kate also went to Napa to research (i.e, drink wine). Yet again, research (and wine) proved the catalyst for great things, since Kate was amazed to see the original cave built by Chinese railroad workers who’d traveled to California for the gold rush. The winery had hired them to excavate a storage cave by hand – you can actually see the pick marks, since they had no heavy machinery. It was entirely made by manual labor. She wouldn’t have known that eerie cave was there, let alone put it into the book, if she hadn’t traveled there herself.

Kate Carlisle (courtesy Judy Coon)

Besides loving research (and wine) and writing about lighthouses, Vicki and Kate both write books about books. In each of Kate’s Bibliophile Mysteries, Brooklyn works on a rare book, whether taking it apart, putting it back together, or authenticating it. Each of these books serves as a catalyst for the mystery. Moreover, she tries to insert references from each book into her plot. In Ripped from the Pages, the cave excavation work reveals a wealth of silver, furniture, artwork, and other hidden treasures – plus a corpse with a suitcase containing a very rare copy of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, one of Kate’s childhood favorites. In another book, Brooklyn is working on a copy of Oliver Twist (which famously features a band of child thieves), while part of the larger plot features a band of book thieves. Her first Bibliophile mystery ambitiously featured Faust, which she had to reread since Marguerite was an important character for her story. Another includes A Secret Garden. However, in A Cookbook Conspiracy and If Books Could Kill, the cookbook and the collection of unknown Robert Burns poems were entirely fictional. In the case of the former, it’s a fortunate circumstance, since the home remedies in the cookbook were truly horrendous.

Because Jane Austen is so prevalent in pop culture right now, her writing is an important aspect of the plot of Vicki’s By Book or By Crook. To capitalize on that, she made this fictional Austen exhibit so wildly, improbably successful on a nationwide scale that the library decides to set up supplementary lectures about Jane Austen, allowing Lucy’s preparatory Austen research to enhance the novel. In future books, Vicki plans to have the plot very loosely reflect the classic novel the library’s book club is currently reading. In one plot, when Lucy’s mother tries to persuade her to return to Boston to marry her intended, the son of her father’s law partner, the book club will be reading Pride and Prejudice. In another, they’ll be reading Kidnapped when Lucy sees a shipwreck on the shore. Vicki’s currently considering which book to feature in the fourth installment of the series, so your suggestions are welcome!

Both Vicki and Kate agree that they never use so much of the book-within-a-book technique that readers who are familiar with the source text would be able to guess whodunit. It’s just small parallels, like the “Easter eggs” hidden in video games. Kate feels like these are not only exciting for the reader to catch, but a fun test for herself to see what sort of references she can bring to the book.

The reason Kate chose bookbinding as Brooklyn’s profession is that Kate loves books as physical objects. She says she was a lonely child who went to the library all summer long, and haunted used bookstores for their lovely smell. From the time she was about 5 years old, she would make her own blank books as gifts for her mother by using the cardboard sheets the cleaners sent back with her father’s shirts, bound up with paper and pretty ribbon. Most authors say they began writing when they were very young, but Kate made blank books instead! She only started writing 30 years later, inspired by a master bookbinder friend who studied at UT Austin and took apart 12th century books for a living. She realized that a bookbinder protagonist would be ideal for her, and began taking classes in bookbinding once she sold the idea to publishers.

Vicki pointed out that two of the major trends in cozy mysteries right now are writing about books and food; she’s trying to combine the two in her Lighthouse Library Mysteries. Although she has no recipes in this series, she does mention a ton of food, thanks to Lucy’s bakery-owning cousin. Although the series is a work-for-hire venture, she’s actually on her own in terms of developing the books from here on out. Even with the first book, the outline provided was so minimal that most of the book is her own creation. She made up everything about Lucy’s character other than her occupation, name, and age. Personality quirks like Lucy’s insecurity about her clothing in comparison with her perfectly-put-together mother – who is the sort of person with the perfect Ralph Lauren blouse and matching accessories for every occasion – help make a character a well-rounded, flesh-and-blood person instead of a cardboard sketch.

Vicki is currently taking a holiday from lighthouses to write another series for Berkely Prime Crime, based on her own original idea of year-round Christmas mysteries set in the fictional town of Rudolph, New York, near Rochester. It’s the sort of classic Christmas-card setting that everyone always pictures, regardless of where they live. Towns like Snowflake, Arizona just can’t compete, as one of her characters declares when a reporter from a famous international travel magazine comes to visit. Watch out for Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen and We Wish You a Murderous Christmas, soon to be decking a bookshelf near you!

As far as their writing routines go, these two authors are completely different. Vicki writes between 3-4 hours a day nonstop, on a tight schedule. She doesn’t tend to write when she’s touring because interruptions throw off her routine. Kate, on the other hand, writes for 8 hours per day, but not straight through; she’ll wander back and forth between writing and other things. They did agree on the need for self-imposed discipline in order to succeed at writing. In Vicki’s former life as a systems analyst, although the deadlines for projects could be a year or two in the future, smaller chunks of the work had to be delivered periodically to keep people on target. With books, however, you can easily find yourself having waited until the last minute. While pumping out 20,000 words per day under pressure can actually be done, Kate assured us that it can’t be done well.

Vicki shows her manuscripts to a few trusted friends for feedback before submitting them to her editor, while Kate has a romance-writer friend who exchanges chapters with her for mutual editing. Kate will generally edit the last chapter while the new one is being reviewed, so her completed first draft is really more along the lines of a second draft. If she has time, she finds that reading her manuscript aloud to feel the rhythm of the words is very helpful. Vicki also likes to leave what she’s written for a few days so she can look at it with fresh eyes. Vicki emphasized that editing your own work all by yourself just isn’t possible – your mind glosses over what you think you already know, so you see what you expect to see rather than what’s actually there. Both of them write on a computer, rather than by hand.

When an audience member mentioned seeing more books lately with typos, errors, and continuity problems, Kate noted that sometimes editors will ask authors to move around parts of the story at the last minute; edits under pressure can lead to something that’s dependent on an event later in the story happening out of sequence. Vicki recently had a minor character named Frances who, as she discovered when reading the manuscript proof, had her name spelled two different ways. A good copywriter is essential to help catch things like that.

When asked how they started writing, Kate notes that she was driven to it during law school by the desire to kill her contracts professor, “the worst person in the world.” She’d take Fridays off to study, and would instead write stories in which the despised teacher met a grisly end. Although she was a legal secretary who came from a family of lawyers, she only lasted a year in law school before she quit. She knew she was capable of doing it, but hated “lawyer thinking” – her mind works in terms of right and wrong, not arguing the other side. So, all her legal research went into writing three books about lawyers which received very good rejections. Proving that persistence pays off, this New York Times bestselling author wrote for about 20 years before she finally sold a book. It wasn’t until she figured out a series hook that she managed to get published. A “hook” is the concept that sustains the series, like bookbinding or a library in a lighthouse.

Vicki, meanwhile, began writing by emulating Kate’s childhood bookbinding adventures. She wrote a story for her daughters one Christmas, including their own names, and hand-bound it with red ribbon. She enjoyed the experience so much that she took a course at community college, which unfortunately taught her that she really didn’t want to write kids’ books for a living. However, since she needed to turn in writing to complete the course, and already liked mystery novels, she tried her hand at that.

Both also wrote for wish fulfillment, to a certain extent. Vicki set her Constable Molly Smith Mysteries in a setting modeled after the real town of Nelson (not named after Admiral Nelson, like she had initially assumed), because she wanted to be there rather than in downtown Toronto working as a systems analyst. This was also why Kate chose wine country as a setting; she took so long to sell her books that she put everything in them that she wanted to be near.

When asked why she didn’t write any mysteries incorporating the show business experience she gained working behind the scenes on Solid Gold, The Gong Show, The Dating Game, and The Newlywed Game, Kate confessed that she did actually try that in her first, unpublished book. When searching for a hook for a series, she thought of using a wardrobe mistress, since she loved the idea of featuring the costumes. It might have been viable if the character worked for a small theater in more of a cozy-friendly environment, but traditional mystery readers don’t find Hollywood and show business very appealing. She’s decided to leave it to her ex-boss Chuck Barris to write the show-biz mysteries. The writing experience she gained on the shows came in handy, though -- as script supervisor, her first writing job was trying to drag funny stories out of the couples on The Newlywed Game. Once you’ve done that, you can do anything.

Vicki isn’t inclined to write books based on her own job experience, either; readers will wait in vain for The Royal Analyst Bank Mysteries to appear. She has a great deal of other life experience to draw on, though. She’s traveled throughout the world, although there are still some places she hasn’t been. She lived in South Africa for 7 years, and went on safari with her daughter, a Canadian diplomat, stationed in Sudan. That setting found its way into Juba Good, one of her “Rapid Reads.” These are novellas written for adults with low literacy skills, who are learning English as a second language, or even just commuters who want a very fast read for the train. They contain adult language, themes, and plots, but are written at about a second or third grade reading level. In some ways, she is following in the footsteps of her mother, who taught first and second grade. Vicki confessed that, contrary to what you might expect, Rapid Reads are much harder to write than a regular novel, since you have to carefully analyze each sentence to make sure it’s not too complex. At this point, librarian Stephanie pointed out that the Velma Teague Library owned a copy of one of her Rapid Reads, A Winter Kill, in our special adult literacy collection. An audience member immediately proceeded to check it out. The Velma Teague Library: always at your service!

The library is grateful to both Vicki Delany and Kate Carlisle for a very entertaining evening, despite the lack of actual wine (or lighthouses) on site. Thanks also to The Poisoned Pen for selling books at this event. For more information about Vicki and Kate’s books, see and

By Book or by Crook by Eva Gates. NAL. 2015. 978-0451470935, 352p.

This Old Homicide by Kate Carlisle. Penguin. 2015. 9780451469205. 336p.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Macmillan Publishing - Spring & Summer Book Releases

Of course, these are just a few of the spring and summer books from Macmillan Publishers. But, so many of them arrived at one time last week, that I thought it was time for a book chat. No Jinx. He was off napping someplace. But, there's a glimpse of Nikki and Josh at the end.

Here are the titles discussed in the book chat -

Little Black Lies - Sharon Bolton (May)
The Kill - Jane Casey (June)
Thin Air - Ann Cleeves (May)
Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders - Cole Cohen (May)
Make Your Home Among Strangers - Jennine Capo Cruset (August)
Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall - Hannah Dennison (May)
Born to Be Wild - Carolyn Haines (May)
Signal - Patrick Lee (July)
World War Moo - Michael Logan (June)
What Doesn't Kill Her - Carla Norton (June)
Poison Ivy - Cynthia Riggs (March)
Burnt River - Karin Salvalaggio (May)
The Blondes - Emily Schultz (April)
Those Girls - Chevy Stevens (July)
All That Followed - Gabriel Urza (August)
The Art of Baking Blind - Sarah Vaughn (May)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Joint Blog Tour - Rhys Bowen and Tasha Alexander

Well, this is a treat. Today, I have a joint post from Rhys Bowen and Tasha Alexander. Rhys has a new Molly Murphy mystery due out on March 3, The Edge of Dreams. Alexander's latest mystery, The Counterfeit Heiress, is part of the ongoing Lady Emily series. It's a pleasure to welcome both of them to Lesa's Book Critiques to talk about why we're hooked on historical novels. And, check the end of the post for a giveaway of both books.

Why Are We So Hooked on Historical Novels?

RHYS: You know, Tasha, I think we’re really lucky. We are writing our historical novels at the perfect time.
It’s only recently that historical novels have become so popular.  It seems that people can’t get enough of taking a trip to the past. Why do you think that is?

I think there are several factors at work here:
We live in stressful times. Abundant news media means that we know what’s going on in North Korea and the Middle East. We are living with terrorists among us. The present clearly isn’t a time one wants to linger in. We want to escape to a kinder, gentler era.

We know that the past wasn’t really safer but seems to us now a time of order and security. Those servants at Downton Abbey knew what was required of them. They worked hard, but they were looked after, well fed and safe.

We live in an age of rush and hurry. There never seems to be a moment to sit down and take a breath. When we think of the past we picture tea on the lawns, time to gossip with neighbors. Even in the fairly humble level of society that Molly Murphy inhabits she has time to enjoy visits to her neighbors, to sit on her mother-in-law’s lawn on a summer afternoon.

We think of the past as an age of elegance. There is so little that is elegant and beautiful in our lives now. People wear jeans to the opera. New fashion is bitty and ugly. New music is loud and repetitious and discordant.

How we envy those long elegant dresses that Tasha’s ladies wear. And lovely kid gloves and dressing for dinner, and fine bone china, and musical evenings and leather bound books and fine horses… I must stop. I’m getting too nostalgic.

This is our impression of the past—endless summer afternoons and shooting parties and carriage rides. It’s a false impression, of course. There were people working under deplorable conditions in factories. There were beggars on street corners. There were children dying of diseases and mothers working themselves to death while they had one child after another.

But even Bob Cratchet’s life seems glamorized for us in fiction.

I could not agree more with each of your points, Rhys. The past is endlessly appealing, partly because we can romanticize it – we don’t have to immerse ourselves in all of it, just the bits we like – but also because it gives us the opportunity to consider the human condition from a distance. I am struck, over and over, when doing research, by how similar the concerns of people in previous centuries are to ours. Because they are not right here next to us, we can evaluate their situations without feeling that we are judging the present with too critical an eye. I write about the last Gilded Age, and the 1890s are shockingly similar to the world today. They had anarchists instead of terrorists, but would recognize the inequality of wealth that plagues our society. Somehow, it feels easier to look into the past and draw conclusions about these things than to try to work out how the world should be dealing with them now.

When we don’t want to think about such things, we can dismiss them and focus instead on the things Rhys has highlighted above: country house parties, balls, Worth gowns, dashing gentlemen, and servants who are treated well by their employers. There is so much ugliness around us today – ugliness that we cannot avoid. Who could blame us for wanting to escape into the past?

Humans love nostalgia. I would bet that our 19th century counterparts romanticized the past as much as we do, even if they didn’t have the ample supplies of historical novels we do. I can well imagine two refined ladies sitting around a tea table in 1811 England lamenting the loss of 18th century elegance. And two 18th century ladies wishing they could have lived through the Restoration of the Monarchy. Could there be something built into us that makes us always wish for that which we cannot have?

I'm grateful that Rhys Bowen and Tasha Alexander took the time to discuss historical novels. I have ARCs (Advanced Readers' Copies) of both books to give away. If you'd like to win one, email me at Your subject line should read "Win The Edge of Dreams" or "Win The Counterfeit Heiress." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Friday, Feb. 20 at 6 PM CT.

If you haven't read their books, here is the information on their websites, and their latest books.

Rhys Bowen's website is
The Edge of Dreams by Rhys Bowen
  • ISBN-13: 9781250052025
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/3/2015
  • Series: Molly Murphy Series , #14
  • Pages: 320

Tasha Alexander's website is
The Counterfeit Heiress by Tasha Alexander
  • ISBN-13: 9781250024695
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/14/2014
  • Series: Lady Emily Series , #9
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 304

Monday, February 16, 2015

Gerrie Ferris Finger, Guest Author

I've read all of Gerrie Ferris Finger's mysteries featuring Moriah Dru and Richard Lake. She has a new one out,  Running with Wild Blood, which I haven't read yet. But, of course I said yes when asked if she could do a guest post.

Thank you, Gerrie, for taking time to write for us.

My mother often told me that she could not tell when I was lying. On the other hand, she could see in my brother’s big blue eyes that he was not being truthful.

So I’m a good liar, according to my mother; and mothers are never wrong. Just ask me, I’m one.

My mother also said in complimentary tones that I had a vivid imagination. An example of this happened at a wilderness church camp when I was about ten. We were encouraged to write our parents—the how-are-you, I-am-fine variety. But I, wanting to do more than the ordinary, wrote of a snake that lived under our cottage. Oh it was purple with yellow stripes and orange eyes and … unlike any snake we’d ever seen on our mid-Missouri farm. But it did rattle before it struck a girl I did not like. This was at a “Thou shalt not lie,” church camp, no less. And my mother believed there could be such a snake in the Ozark Mountains a hundred miles from where we lived. My father eventually told her otherwise.

My mother was delighted that I’d become a writer, first of newspaper stories and then as a novelist. See where I’m going with this? Of course, you do. Liars and writers have a lot in common; in both, the speaker or writer is trying to convince the listener or reader that something is true when it is not.

During my years as a yarn spinner of both the oral and written word, I’ve come to catalog what makes a tall tale persuasive.

—Believability. To be believed there has to be details that make sense. The purple and yellow-striped snake with orange eyes would be a tip-off if my mother hadn’t convinced herself that she could not look into my hazel-green lying eyes and spot the untruth. A good liar—or writer—can make the listener or reader experience the warm sand and water washing across their toes while strolling the beach in their borrowed imaginations.

—Reality. Adding emotions to a story, oral or written, creates authenticity and involvement in the tale. Nothing is as unreal as being told a love scene rather than being shown people in sexual situations. For the audiologist, that’s what jokes are for. For the scribbler, showing can be difficult for some writers. It involves emotional dialogue and conveying human magnetism (eroticism) to maintain the illusion of genuineness. Throughout the narrative the speaker or writer has to keep up the illusion of reality in the motivations of the people involved.

—Speech. In dialogue, is it easier for a liar to lie, or a writer to exercise vivid imagination? I think people have an “ear” for the spoken word—how country people talk, how Bostonians speak, how intellectuals discuss, how foreigners enunciate, etc. Mimics have a better time of lying about people in their stories if they can fall into their patois. Writers have to distinguish people by their speech, but must not overdo difficult to read dialect.

—Logic: Back to the purple and yellow striped snake with orange eyes: To get away with a lie or write a convincing story, vivid imaginations must conform to logical manifestations. People have to look and behave like people we know or have observed World-building writers must establish rules that are logical for aliens. When writing vampires, they must behave like vampires we’ve come to know—or ghosts, or talking animals. Even cartoon characters have to be logical.

—Variables: This is one that combines them all, or you can throw them all to the wind because maybe somewhere in the world there really are purple snakes with yellow stripes and orange eyes.

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. Running with Wild Blood releases this month.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Little Dog in the Sun by Lanea Stagg

I've never felt qualified to review picture books, however I can comment on them. Little Dog in the Sun by Lanea Stagg, illustrated by Jon Fuchs, has a message that reaches adults as well as children. It's a story of loss, and finding the sun afterward, a reason to go on with each day.

Stagg's story has a basis in her own life, the loss of her best friend. My guess is there actually was a dog, Ava, a homeless dog who showed up. Although the surviving friend was reluctant to take in a dog, the dog's joy in every spot of sunshine inspired the friend to find her own pools of sunlight in life.

Stagg, an Evansville, Indiana author, and local illustrator Jon Fuchs teamed up to tell this story of loss and inspiration. In fact, they were so determined to share the story with readers that they launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish it. And, readers who love dogs will enjoy the photos at the end of the book. Donors at various levels were allowed to submit their own pictures of their "Little Dog in the Sun". The picture book, with its charming illustrations, is a story of loss, and finding reasons to go on with life.

Copies of Little Dog in the Sun are available at
There's a Facebook Fan Page: Little Dog in the Sun
Jon Fuchs' art can be seen at
Lanea Stagg blogs at

Little Dog in the Sun by Lanea Stagg. Illustrations by John Fuchs. ISBN 9780692315347 (paperback).

Saturday, February 14, 2015

At the Drop of a Hat by Jenn McKinlay

I have to tip my hat to Jenn McKinlay. She manages to successfully juggle multiple mystery series, while keeping the sexual tension high and the humor in the forefront. At the Drop of a Hat, her third Hat Shop mystery is filled with suspense, humor, and the already mentioned sexual tension. That actually adds to the humor as McKinlay's amateur sleuth Scarlett Parker fights her attraction to a childhood friend who grew into a hot business partner.

Scarlett and her cousin, Vivian Tremont, inherited a hat shop, Mim's Whims from their grandmother. But, when Viv needed money, she sold part of the business to their bookkeeper, Harrison Wentworth, who does his best to keep the two women out of trouble. This time, though, it's a client who shows up on Harrison's recommendation that leads them into trouble.

When Ariana Jackson shows up wanting a hat restored for her wedding, Viv and Scarlett recognize it as one their grandmother made, and Viv is eager to take on the job. When Ariana doesn't return their phone calls, Scarlett goes to her workplace. It's there she finds Ariana in the backyard, standing over the body of her dead boss, Anthony Russo. A friend of Scarlett's said, "Anthony Russo is known for being a womanizing, drunken, lascivious letch...And a gambler." And, now he's dead, and the future bride has good reasons to want him dead.

Ariana's lucky. She has a top-notch attorney, a supportive fiance, and, Scarlett and Viv believe she's innocent although all the evidence says otherwise. And, now that Scarlett has sworn off men, she has time to devote to the cause. How did she go from dating handsome men to skulking around playing cat burglar with her cousin? And, Harrison? Since he can't seem to keep Scarlett and Viv out of trouble, he insists on accompanying Scarlett on her mission. She just can't seem to keep her mind on the job, though, when he's around.

Jenn McKinlay excels at mysteries featuring strong, supportive relationships between women. Scarlett and Viv are there for each other, and, in this case, supportive of Ariana as well. Although Scarlett, with her American lack of understanding of British humor is often the butt of jokes between her friends, the humor is kind.

Humor, friendship, a touch of romance, and, of course, a mystery, all revolving around a British hat shop. At the Drop of a Hat is another charming treat from a storyteller who seems to have a limitless imagination.

Jenn McKinlay's website is

At the Drop of a Hat by Jenn McKinlay. Berkley Prime Crime. 2015. ISBN 97804258910 (paperback), 292p.

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

Friday, February 13, 2015

Winners and Summer Dreaming Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of last week's giveaway. Natalie S. from Hyde Park, MA won Rosie Genova's The Wedding Soup Murder. Death of a Crabby Cook by Penny Pike goes to Glen D. from Yuba City, CA. I'm mailing the books today.

I think most of us are tired of winter, so this week, I'm giving away summer mysteries. And, they're both award nominees as well.

Julia Keller's Summer of the Dead is a Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee. It's high summer in Acker's Gap, West Virginia, but no one is is enjoying it with a killer stalking the small town. County prosecutor Bell Elkins and Sheriff Nick Fogelson are baffled by a murderer who seems to "come and go like smoke on the mountain". And, Bell has to cope with the return of her sister from prison, while she's still dealing with her own return to her hometown.

A Demon Summer brings back G.M. Malliet's spy turned cleric, Max Tudor. Father Max is sent to investigate when the 15th Earl of Lislelivet complains that someone tried to poison him. Because the poison was in a fruitcake that came from an abbey, the bishop asks Max to look into it. And, as soon as Max arrives, a body is found in the cloister well. The latest mystery featuring Father Max is an Agatha Award nominee for Best Novel.

Which award nominee 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 Summer of the Dead" or "Win A Demon Summer." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Here's an important note. Because of my schedule next week, this contest will end early, at 6 PM CT on Tuesday, Feb. 17 so I can mail the books on Wednesday. Good luck!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dogwood Hill by Sherryl Woods

Sunday dinners at the family matriarch's, matchmaking, quaint shops, a charming village on the Chesapeake Bay. These are all features to draw readers back to Sherryl Woods' Chesapeake Shores novels. But, most of all, it's the love shared by all the members of the O'Brien family. In  Dogwood Hill, two newcomers to town yearn for that kind of family love, but they both have secrets that hold them back. Longtime readers of this series will know the O'Briens always come through, though.

Aidan Mitchell and Liz March meet on his first day in town. After a career ending injury, the former NFL quarterback is in Chesapeake Shores to interview for the job of high school football coach. Liz is owner of Pet Style, but they come together when her foster dog, Archie, tries to corral Aidan with a flock of geese. It's an amusing meeting, and there are a few sparks, but Aidan and Liz have secrets that could spell disaster for a relationship. A few secrets don't matter to the O'Briens, though, when they decide to bring a couple together. And, then there's that Aussie shepherd who's determined to herd "his" people.

The novels featuring the O'Brien family are some of my favorite books with the humor, romance, and family love. Don't get me wrong. The O'Briens aren't perfect. There have been divorces, three brothers who didn't speak for years; one brother sued the other. There have been misunderstandings, fights in the course of the series. But, family always triumphs. The reader may know from page one that the couple will get together. And, by the fifth page, Aidan's secret is revealed. That doesn't make Dogwood Hill any less enjoyable.

Strong family relationships, romance, humor in a beautiful setting. Dogwood Hill, like Sherry Woods' previous books in this series, is a comfort read.

Sherryl Woods' website is

Dogwood Hill by Sherryl Woods. 2015. ISBN 9780778318231 (hardcover), 330p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What Are You Reading?

Dinner and a play Sunday night (Flashdance). Book club on Monday night. A solid work schedule on Tuesday with no lunch. That means I had time to read 65 pages of Sherryl Woods' Dogwood Hill last night. That also means it's a day to ask you what you're reading.

Dogwood Hill is a Chesapeake Shores novel. If I was going to call any series a guilty pleasure, this would be it. But, I "never apologize for my reading taste". However, I know on the first page who the couple is and that they'll get together. And, I knew by the fifth page what the problem will be keeping them apart before they end up "happily ever after". I really don't care. I love this series about the large, matchmaking O'Brien family and their charming town.

So, I'm reading Dogwood Hill. What are you reading today? A sort of guilty pleasure? Something you love - new or old? An author you're trying for the first time? Let us know what you're reading! Please.