Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year


I had a better 2015 than so many people I know, and, the country in general. I spent time with family and friends, traveled more than once to New York City, met a dear friend for the very first time. I have a job I enjoy, cats I treasure. I love my family. And, I enjoy my books. And, I know how lucky I am.

But, 2015 hasn't been kind to everyone. Our country is still torn apart, and there are so many angry people. There's a reason I read the newspaper, read a journalist online who I respect, and don't turn on the news on TV. I don't care to see angry people yelling at me.

Friends lost people they loved this year - parents, spouses. And, other friends have either suffered from health issues, or their family members have. I think it's because I'm growing older, and our parents and loved ones are aging as well.

So, no. 2015 hasn't been an easy year for many of us. But, it's not my role to complain about life. My role is to share joy - the joy of books, and, sometimes the joy of family or travel or theater. I see my role as to share the small moments of laughter with cats or moments of charm with Pygmy goats. Most of all, this blog has always been about books - the entertainment of books, their connection to our lives, just the joy of discovery of a good book.

My resolution for 2016 is to continue to share my passion and love for stories, for books, with all of you. Sometimes family or travel will pop up in the conversation. That's part of the story of my life.

My wish for you for 2016? Contentment, love and friendship, a healthier year. And, quiet moments to appreciate good books and conversation about books.




Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Favorites of 2015

I always wait until the end of the year. What if I read something incredible in the last couple weeks of the year, and I've already posted my picks? And, that happened this year, so I'm glad I waited. Here's my top 10 of 2015, the books I most enjoyed reading. As I've said before, these don't fit anyone else's criteria. These are my favorites of the year.

Deanna Raybourn's A Curious Beginning launches a new historical mystery series. In 1887, Veronica Speedwell is about to leave London for a career indulging her passion for butterflies, when adventure finds her. Following a kidnapping attempt, and a murder, Veronica finds herself on the run with a scientist, Stoker, using scientific observations and knowledge, skills learned in foreign countries, and a hatpin, to stay alive.






In See Also Murder, Larry D. Sweazy introduces an unusual amateur sleuth, and puts her in a gritty environment, the plains of North Dakota in 1964. Marjorie Trumaine was content to be a farm wife until her husband's accident. Now, she's also working as an indexer. She's barely managing to keep their heads above water when their neighbors are killed. And, the sheriff asks her to research an item found in the possession of the dead couple. It's a beautifully written, atmospheric mystery.





Nancy Herriman's riveting historical mystery, No Comfort for the Lost, launches her Old San Francisco series. Set in 1867, it introduces two strong lead characters.Celia Davies, a nurse, teams up with a Civil War veteran turned police officer, Detective Nicholas Greaves, to investigate a murder. And, these two are the only ones who really care about justice for the victim.






I do have a couple nonfiction books on the list, beginning with Sarah Vowell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. She brings the Marquis de Lafayette and the sometimes cranky Revolutionary War figures to life in her combination of history and wry humor. In a book that unites history, popular culture and culture, Vowell beautifully tells the story of the founding of the country, hinging her account on a revered figure.





The other nonfiction book is Rick Bragg's My Southern Journey. His latest collection of essays, My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South, is pure poetry. It's often humorous, sometimes a little melancholy, but always warm, heart-felt, and written with love. If you like Southern storytelling, rocking on the porch stories, stories of family and food and home, My Southern Journey is a comfort read.





Manners and Mutiny is a concluding volume instead of the first in a series. It's the last book in Gail Carriger's Finishing School steampunk series, and it's a perfect ending. It has all the espionage and suspense of the previous books, along with explosions, surprises when it comes to characters, and romance. For one last time, Carriger throws her heroine, Sophronia Temminick, into a world of supernaturals, werewolves, and vampires working for Queen Victoria, while noblemen called Picklemen plot against the government, using mechanical devices when possible.



Laura Anne Gilman's Silver on the Road is an intense novel that launches a compelling epic fantasy series, a series that could be called a fantasy western. In fact, this is book one in The Devil's West series. It's an atmospheric, wonderful beginning. It's the early 1800's in an alternate North America, divided partially into The United States to the east, the Spanish Protectorate to the southwest, the Northern Wilds, and in between, the Territory, where the boss, the devil, has power. Izzy signs a contract with the boss to become the Devil's Left Hand, Isobel nee Lacoya Tavora of Flood, The Devil's Hand. And, she becomes a rider in the Territory, with Gabriel Kasun as her mentor, a man who also makes a pact with the boss to turn the girl-child into a rider, and prepare her. The Devil's Hand; "It is the strength of the Territory, the quick knife in the darkness, the cold eye and the final word."

At this point, I'm glad I waited until the end of the year to do my list. When Anne Cleeland contacted me, offering to give away all three books in her Acton & Doyle series, I had not yet read any of the books. And, even now, as I finish the third, Murder in Hindsight, I can't decide which book I should select for the list. The first, Murder in Thrall, introduces Kathleen Doyle, a rookie at Scotland Yard, and Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair, Lord Acton, who becomes obsessed with the new detective. This novel of obsession is followed by Murder in Retribution. Characters are further developed, and Doyle faces a threat, as the turf war between the Russians and Irish continues in London. And, in the third, Murder in Hindsight, the fascinating couple continues to juggle their personal and professional lives, as Doyle worries about her husband's professional interests. The two eccentric characters are both remarkable; Doyle, who can tell if people are lying, and Acton, called "Holmes" by fellow officers because of his aloofness and his remarkable ability to solve crimes. But, at what cost? This is a series that works well if you read them in succession, so I'm picking the series, rather than an individual book, although it's only Murder in Hindsight that came out in 2015.

What would this list be without a Louise Penny book? The Nature of the Beast is one of my two favorite in her series; the other being How the Light Gets In. Even in retirement, Gamache continues in the ongoing battle of good vs. evil. When a young boy goes missing, after crying wolf once too often, the entire village sets out to find him. Monsters threaten the world, and the darkness has reached Three Pines. Gamache, representing Everyman, stands as witness to the knowledge that we all have the potential for evil, the potential for good, and, in The Nature of the Beast, the awareness of our own cowardice in the face of evil.


There was no question about what book tops my list. It was a book I shared with family and friends as soon as I read it. It still remains on the bestseller lists, and I'm going to suggest it for my book club next year. Although Kristin Hannah has long been a bestselling author, I see The Nightingale as her breakthrough novel. In The Nightingale, a story of war-time France, she wrote an unforgettable story. It's so much more than a story about sisters. Hannah says, "In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are." This is a powerful novel, often difficult to read at times. It may be a novel, but it's one that speaks the truth. When war comes to their small village, the two sisters react differently in a story that reveals more about the Resistance during the Second World War than many readers will have known. The Nightingale is a beautifully detailed novel about the women who fought in their own way, survived, and didn't leave behind a record of their courage. 

These are my favorite books of 2015. Many of the titles won't make the more literary lists that have already appeared. But, they were satisfying reads, entertaining books with original storylines. My favorite types of books.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book Confession Time

"Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa." Well, it's book confession time. I may have just said it's my fault, but I wrote a strong letter to author Anne Cleeland telling her it's her fault I haven't yet finished her third book, Murder in Hindsight. I was reading her Acton and Doyle Scotland Yard mysteries over the holidays, and partway through this latest one, I went back and reread Murder in Thrall, the first book. I have never read a book twice in the same week. It's her fault for writing about two characters who are that intriguing. Acton suffers from obsession, and now I'm stuck obsessing over those books. In fact, I asked Cleeland when book four is coming out.


So, as long as I'm on a roll, I might as well make a second confession. I read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol last night because I'm planning to go to a book discussion at one of our library's today. I was publicizing the program yesterday as one of those books we all think we know, but we haven't read. I've seen countless versions of it on TV, and it's one of my favorite Christmas shows, no matter who plays Scrooge (although I do love Michael Caine in The Muppet Christmas Carol). But, I'm one of those people who hadn't read it.

OK. There are my two book confessions. I'm absolutely hooked on a new series, rereading the first book so that I haven't had time to finish the third. And, until last night, I hadn't read A Christmas Carol.

How about you? Any book confessions at the end of the year?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Murder in Retribution by Anne Cleeland

I'm in agreement with the reviewers who call Anne Cleeland's New Scotland Yard mysteries original. These clever stories feature two fascinating, reclusive police detectives whose personal lives are even more intriguing than their cases. And, the more Doyle learns about her enigmatic husband, the more she fears for his safety, not her own. In Murder in Retribution, though, she needs to watch out for herself.

The marriage between the Irish Kathleen Doyle, a first-year detective, and Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair, Lord Acton, is all the talk of Scotland Yard. How did she trap him into marriage? And, now that she's pregnant, and trying to work through morning sickness, she knows the gossips will have plenty to say. She's just determined to continue to use her perceptive ability to work murder cases. The Russians seem to have gone to war with the Sinn-split, an Irish terrorist group, and Russian and Irish bodies turn up in drainage systems and elsewhere. Acton, however, is determined to keep his wife out of danger. It's not easy to keep her out of danger, or out of trouble.

The couple have to work to balance their personal and professional lives, and friends and co-workers don't make it easy. While Acton's friends, long-time schoolmates, are interested, they don't approve of Doyle. And, it's obvious their housekeeper and Lord Acton's mother see eye-to-eye in their disapproval. It's not easy on anyone, particularly when Doyle is feeling so terrible. Even feeling ill, though, Doyle fears her husband knows more than he should about the gang wars going on in London.

At one point, Doyle realizes "The personal was more important than the professional", and that's true in the case of these books. If readers like the wry humor and the relationship between Doyle and Action, they'll return to the books. At one point, Doyle realizes "Acton knew how to dispose of a body with the best of them, which was a commendable trait in a husband." True. Very commendable, if you're willing to accept Acton's devotion to Doyle, while she herself is determined to remain a police officer.

There's an ongoing storyline involving the turf war between the Russians and Irish. But, it's the continuing characters who are the chief draw for these books. While Doyle and Acton stand out, there's a strong supporting cast, including Habib, Doyle's supervisor; her rival, Munoz, and a fellow detective, Williams, who shows an unusual interest in her. It's a remarkable cast, and they each have important roles to play in the books.

Murder in Retribution is a startling book in this unusual series. There's a reason the young officers at the Met refer to Acton as "Holmes", and his eccentric nature and behavior, his obsession, will appeal to many readers, while others will be shocked. Count me as one reader who will continue to return to discover more about Anne Cleeland's uncommon pair of detectives.

Anne Cleeland's website is www.annecleeland.com

Murder in Retribution by Anne Cleeland. Kensington Books. 2014. ISBN 9780758287977 (hardcover), 294p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Book Chat - January Cozy Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian



Just a peek at Josh, an ear here or there in this chat. But, then, it's about books anyways, isn't it?

Here is the list of cozy mysteries to be released by Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian in January.

The Cakes of Monte Cristo by Jacklyn Brady (6th Piece of Cake Mystery)
Daisies for Innocence by Bailey Cattrell (1st Enchanted Garden Mystery)
Sweet Pepper Hero by J.J. Cook (4th Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery)
Foreign Eclairs by Julie Hyzy (9th White House Chef Mystery)
One Foot in the Grove by Kelly Lane (1st Olive Grove Mystery)
A Ghoul's Guide to Love and Murder by Victoria Laurie (10th Ghost Hunter Mystery)
Copy Cap Murder by Jenn McKinlay (4th Hat Shop Mystery)
A Second Chance at Murder by Diana Orgain (2nd Love or Money Mystery)
Death of a Bad Apple by Penny Pike (3rd Food Festival Mystery)
To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton (1st Dangerous Type Mystery)
A Wee Dose of Death by Fran Stewart (2nd Scotshop Mystery)

Enjoy!


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Murder in Thrall by Anne Cleeland

Anne Cleeland's characters and her writing style in her first Acton and Doyle Scotland Yard mystery, Murder in Thrall, completely captivated me. This unusual book launched what is now a three-book series, with, hopefully many more to come.  Acton and Doyle are a fascinating, gifted team.

None of the other detectives can believe that Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair, Lord Acton, selected an Irish first-year detective, Kathleen Doyle, for his investigative team. But, she has an uncanny gift to read people, to tell when they're lying, and it proved useful on the first case together. She can't believe he forgave her first major mistake, allowing a suspect to leave when he locked her up. But, the reclusive and unapproachable Action has reasons for every request he makes, even the ones that seem unusual. Right now, the couple are working the case of a horse trainer, murdered before he can reveal secrets that possibly involve money laundering at the racetrack. But, as subsequent murders occur, they seem to have less and less to do with money laundering. Neither detective can guess how personal the murders will become.

Once in a while, a mystery comes along, so polished, so intricately woven that it's hard to reveal much about the plot. In fact, I can say little about the style in which this mystery is written without spoiling the introduction to the characters. Instead, I'll mention the complicated, fascinating characters in this intricately plotted mystery. Doyle went into police work, hoping to combine her passion for crime shows with her perceptive ability. Acton has a reputation at Scotland Yard, and throughout London as the "brilliant, titled chief inspector who regularly solved high-profile murders". Although the story revolves around these two, Cleeland also introduces other interesting characters working in the department. But, it's Doyle and Acton whose cases and relationship dominate this character-driven crime novel.

Murder in Thrall grows in intensity, matching the complex relationships in the book. It's a suspenseful story of obsession, one that actually leaves some threads unresolved, undoubtedly to develop in future mysteries. It's an "enthralling" story for many reasons, not least of all the growing connection and understanding between Doyle and Acton. Fortunately, for readers only discovering Cleeland's smart, intuitive characters, there are already two more books this series. It's not every day a remarkable crime series comes along with two such compelling characters.

Anne Cleeland's website is www.annecleeland.com

Murder in Thrall by Anne Cleeland. Kensington Books. 2013. ISBN 9780758287915 (hardcover), 282p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library Book

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!



Your ongoing friendship here, your comments, your joy in books, is one of my favorite gifts, and it's a gift I have all year. Thank you!

If you're staying home, as I am, I wish you quiet moments to appreciate the people and pets you love, the warmth of your home.

If you're traveling, I wish you light to guide you safely. And, if your family is coming to you, I know they'll appreciate the light and warmth of your home.



And, may we all find our way safely to the homes and memories of our hearts.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve


I can't think of anything better to say for Christmas Eve than what I said last year, with a few changes.

Family, food, travel, Christmas movies. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are probably two days when most people are too busy to pick up a book. (Of course, if you want to talk about a book, I'll always read your note.)

Instead, I hope you're enjoying your holiday traditions, however you celebrate. If that means quiet time, just for you, I hope you enjoy the solitude and the time to reflect. If you're celebrating time with family and friends, I hope you appreciate them.

Celebrations change over the years. My family often celebrated on Christmas Eve because my
father worked shift work, and wasn't always home on Christmas Day. And, we made Christmas Eve trips to my grandparents' house, and then looked for Rudolph's nose in the sky on the way home. Once I was married, Jim and I celebrated on Christmas Eve with food and special Christmas readings, "Yes, Virginia", "The Gift of the Magi" and the Nativity story. This year, I'm heading to friends' for dinner.

For those of you who miss loved ones this year, whose pain is fresh, or who remember family and friends who died much earlier, I wish you moments of peace. If you have faith, no one expresses the feeling of loss and peace better than Ryan Kelly does in the song he wrote, "Not Far Apart".



Merry Christmas Eve! It may be a busy day for you, or the calm before the hecticness of Christmas Day. I wish you a few moments to yourself, a little quiet time, maybe for a Christmas reading or two. And, I wish you memories of those you love.






Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mystery Series From the Beginning

'Tis the season means it takes a little while to get through books. I just received Anne Cleeland's latest book, Murder in Hindsight. She's going to kick off the 2016 book giveaways by giving away all three books in her Scotland Yard mystery series. And, I'm excited about that. But, I'm one of those people who has to start at the beginning of a series, and I haven't read the earlier books. So, I just started Murder in Thrall, the book that introduces Detective Constable Kathleen Doyle and Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair, Lord Acton. But, no promises as to how far I'll get tonight.

So, since we may have to save a discussion of what we're reading for tomorrow, I'm going to throw out another question today. Tell me about a mystery series you read that requires the reader start from the beginning. I know sometimes fans sometimes recommend new readers start at a later book because the author improves. Tell me which one must be started from book one.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Stillwater by Melissa Lenhardt

Stillwater, Texas. The town in Melissa Lenhardt's first Jack McBride mystery is as bleak and dark as it sounds. But, McBride isn't one of those perfect saints, a lawman who comes into town to clean up the place. McBride's brooding, angry personality fits Stillwater.

Former FBI agent Jack McBride took the job of police chief, moving to Stillwater with his thirteen-year-old son, Ethan. Both McBrides are angry. Jack's wife, Julie, walked out on them on Ethan's birthday, and Jack's been covering for her for a year. Ethan, on the other hand, is a typical teenage boy, rolling eyes at his father, and blaming him that his mother is gone. And, it turns out Stillwater isn't the sanctuary either of them want or need. It's a town where everyone knows what you're doing, and the retired sheriff, who controlled the town, knows enough about Jack and Ethan to make their lives difficult.

Stillwater should have been a quiet place. Instead, on his first day as police chief, McBride has to deal with the apparent murder/suicide of a Mexican couple, illegal immigrants. He's ambushed while transporting a prisoner, and his car is set on fire. Within the same week, a skeleton is found in the woods, and McBride finds himself attracted to a smart woman, too smart to want to get involved with a married man. Every move McBride makes seems to land him in more trouble as he digs up buried secrets, exposing the town's past. It's not normal for Stillwater, where "Too many people were willing to sweep the town's problems under the rug and pretend they didn't exist."

Lenhardt's mystery is about characters; angry ones, crooked ones, complex characters with histories they want to keep hidden. It's about a small town ruled by secrets, tied together by history, and, in some cases, determined to keep the past buried. Perhaps only a man as angry as Jack McBride could take on the people who hid the town's stories.

Stillwater, the first Jack McBride mystery, introduces a brooding, moody man, but a man determined to find the truth. Perhaps McBride's future, and the future for the town, won't be as bleak after secrets and lies are exposed.

Melissa Lenhardt's website is www.melissalenhardt.com

Stillwater by Melissa Lenhardt. Skyhorse Publishing. 2015. ISBN 9781634502269 (hardcover), 298p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


Monday, December 21, 2015

100 Deadly Skills by Clint Emerson

If I put fifty book covers in front of you, would you guess that the book I finished was Clint Emerson's100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative's Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation? No, I haven't gone survivalist on you. Actually, it was part of my job to read it following a request for reconsideration. It might not make my list of favorite books for 2015, but I can recommend it to friends who are writing crime fiction. Think Jack Reacher techniques.

Emerson, a retired Navy SEAL, provides techniques that operatives use to prepare for a mission, infiltrate an area, prepare for the operation, watch people, gain access to houses and hotel rooms, set up audio and visual surveillance (and avoid it), take action, avoid capture, and escape. For those not interested in the techniques themselves, there are takeaway summaries on all 100 skills, otherwise known as BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front).

Looking for security measures to take in your hotel room, garage, or car? There are hints for those of us interested in a little more self-protection. But, if you're a crime writer looking for ways to dispose of a body, car maneuvers to take to avoid capture, ways to hide information in emails, those techniques are explained as well.

Bottom line? There's very little information in 100 Deadly Skills that will matter to the majority of us. Quite a few of the techniques are so involved, or the operative will be so loaded with equipment, that they seem outrageous. They seem a little outrageous even for NCIS' Jethro Gibbs or Lee Child's Jack Reacher. But, some crime writers may find some interesting tips. Oh, and you'll finally learn the best reason for Jack Reacher to buy new clothes when he travels - DNA.

100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative's Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation by Clint Emerson. Touchstone. 2015. ISBN 9781476796055 (paperback), 256p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Triple Time with Crime and Music by Holstine, Love, Zgorski

We - Kristopher Zgorski, Dru Ann Love, and I are at it again and this time we are highlighting some of our favorite songs that focus on the criminal elements, as we all know that, what’s a mystery without a crime. Thanks to Krisopher who came up with this idea.

And, thanks to Kristopher, who wrote today's post here. Please visit Kristopher and Dru Ann's sites to see the other guest posts.

When Dru Ann, Lesa, and I decided that our next Triple post was going to be about crime in music, I set out making a long list from which to choose the songs I would cover. This turned out to be quite a long list – as dichotomous as song and crime might seem, there is a long tradition of linking the two and I am happy that the three of us decided to cover this topic.

As I began to narrow down my long list to the chosen five, I noticed that I was gravitating towards songs that focused on the victims rather than the crimes or criminals themselves. This is not unlike what draws me in the novels I read, so this didn’t come as a surprise. Similarly, each of the songs focuses on a disenfranchised minority caught up in events beyond their control. These were voices struggling to be heard and now here we are can listen to them in music and lyrics. 

Finally, before we get to my choices, I want to point out that three of my choices are songs written by the performer and almost exclusively associated with that individual. One of the others is closely associated with the artist who wrote it, but in my case, I chose a cover version. The final song chosen is an adaptation of a poem and has been recorded to great success by a vast number of performers, though I doubt anyone will question the version I choose to include.

And so…Songs of Crime:

Reba McEntire – Fancy
Written and first performed by Bobbie Gentry, “Fancy” first came to my attention with it was recorded by Reba McEntire in 1990, so that is the version I include here.  “Fancy” is the story of an eighteen-year-old girl who is pushed into prostitution by her struggling mother. With no more advice than “just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy, and they’ll be nice to you,” Fancy enters a world she knows nothing about.

For me, the power of the song comes from the fact that Fancy does not let this event define her. She manages to find a way to make this hardship work for her and rises above her lot in life. Is there a more powerful statement of affirmation than:
“I might have been born just plain white-trash, but Fancy was my name!”

In this song, there is no doubt that Fancy is the victim, but she never allows society to victimize her. She never blames her mother for being in a situation where this was the only option. Regardless of her life situation, Fancy is the role-model we want for young girls – one who is proud of herself and stands up to a society that continually tries to push her down.

Fancy on YouTube: https://youtu.be/zplc4Ienkws

Bob Dylan – Hurricane
“Hurricane,” as written and performed by Bob Dylan, is about as close to a novel in song as one is likely to find. Dylan tells the story of Rubin Carter – who he believed was wrongfully convicted of a crime simply because he was black. Through much controversy and multiple legal actions, Dylan was able to get his song heard and the people listened.  Eventually, Carter was granted a new trial and was ultimately released. That folks, is the power of song! You really have to listen to the song to hear the poetry that Dylan is such a master of. What is ironic is that while this song came out in 1975, lyrics like the following could just as easily reflect the issues society is facing today:

“In Paterson that’s just the way things go.
If you’re black, you might as well not show up on the street
‘less you want to draw the heat.”

Simply, change Paterson to Baltimore or Ferguson and alter the details of the crime, and you might have yourself a new protest song.

Hurricane on YouTube: https://youtu.be/FvI6ZX0yNjM

Tori Amos – Me and a Gun
Think about the confidence and nerve it must have taken for Tori Amos to include “Me and a Gun” on her first solo album.  A stark, acapella song detailing the night of terror she faced years earlier, “Me and a Gun” documents her own rape in a way that is angry, yet redemptive. Few of us – though still far too many – know what it would be like to face that kind of violation. Who knows what we would be thinking during that moment, but when Tori tells listeners “I haven’t seen Barbados, so I must get out of this,” it rings completely authentic in a way that only putting it in a song could have. She then goes on to attack the culture of victim-blaming which still exists today:
“Yes, I wore a slinky red thing.
Does that mean I should spread
For you, your friends, your father – Mr. Ed?”

This powerful declaration is an example of a young woman who knows that she is fighting an uphill battle but still cannot stand by and allow herself and others like her to be made to feel as though they did something wrong, while the real villains are allowed to continue perpetrating their crimes.

Me and a Gun on YouTube: https://youtu.be/MPF_8T2pkAw

Melissa Etheridge – Scarecrow
This is probably the most obscure song on my list. “Scarecrow” was never a single and while Melissa does still regularly include it in her concert setlists, probably only her most devoted fans are familiar with it.  Melissa wrote “Scarecrow” as a tribute to Matthew Shepard and the horrible ordeal he faced. Hopefully, everyone remembers that Matthew was a victim of a hate crime – beaten and tied to a split rail fence in Laramie, WY by a pair of homophobic thugs with nothing better to do after a night of excessive drinking.

By the time the song reaches the chorus, I am always in tears:
“Scarecrow crying, waiting to die, wondering why.
Scarecrow trying – Angels will hold and carry your soul away.”

Having traveled to Laramie myself to view the location of this tragedy, the image of the scarecrow silhouetted on the skyline will always rip my heart out.  That was my way of paying tribute to Matthew’s sacrifice and this song is Melissa Etheridge’s way.  As the song says towards the end:  “I can forgive, but I will not forget.”

Scarecrow on YouTube: https://youtu.be/JwJqJP-VgGA

Billie Holliday – Strange Fruit
“Southern trees bear strange fruit” is one of the most chilling opening lines of any song in history. Adapted from a poem by Abel Meeropol, “Strange Fruit” is a cry against racism and the practice of lynching in particular. A relatively short song, the bluesy arrangement virtually makes the listener feel the stifling heat and the struggle for just one more breath. Though it has been covered by many artists, I don’t think anyone will ever come close to the Billie Holliday rendition. This is mainly because she herself was a victim of the rampant racism in our country. Her voice conveys that hurt and humiliation in ways that are indescribable. It is pointless for me to say more, all you have to do is listen.

Strange Fruit on YouTube:  https://youtu.be/h4ZyuULy9zs

What is disheartening in looking at these songs is that in many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The victims in these songs are in no way unique and we as a society owe it to them to hear their voices and the voices of those like them. 

Please stop by Kristopher's website, BOLO Books where Dru Ann is the guest writer discussing Crime and Music, with her five picks. I'm the guest blogger at Dru's Book Musings, so please drop over there as well. Tell us what you think, or let us know if you have a favorite song about crime.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

I Will Have Vengeance by Maurizio de Giovanni

Maurizio de Giovanni's I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi, introduces a fascinating detective. And, Anne Milano Appel's translation captures the spirit of the man, while her closing afterword summarizes historical and opera facts to make the book more accessible to readers. Together, they bring a haunted figure to life. While the book is a murder mystery, it is also a profile of Ricciardi.

In 1931 in Naples, Italy, the police were a military force under a Fascist regime since 1922. And, Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi was a Commissario of Police, a thirty-one-year-old who has been haunted by the dead since he was six. Ricciardi sees the dead, the ones who died violently. And, he senses the sudden energy of their final thoughts. Because he feels their emotion, he's a somber man, with "a scar on his soul". He's a wealthy man, but he's compelled to find answers for the dead, so he works. He's feared by other police, except for one man who's attached to him, Brigadier Raffaele Maione. With all of his usual determination, Ricciardi found the killer of Maione's son, also a policeman.

This background is essential to understanding Ricciardi's investigation into the murder of Arnaldo Vezzi, "the world's greatest tenor", who was killed while preparing to go onstage to sing. There were numerous people at the theater who could not have murdered him. And, it was an opera-loving priest who saw the clues Ricciardi needed to find a killer. It's a complicated case with few suspects. But Ricciardi is convinced he'll know the perpetrator when he understands the motive. "Hunger and love are the source of all atrocities, whatever form they might take: pride, power, envy, jealousy."

I Will Have Vengeance is not a fast-paced thriller. Instead, it's a character study of a police detective as he tracks a killer. It's a thoughtful, slow-moving book in which Ricciardi manipulates the solution to achieve his concept of justice. It's a detective story for readers who are fascinated by the mystery of character, and how character, good or bad, moves the story along. While the murder mystery is solved, the mystery of Commissario Ricciardi leaves much to be discovered.

I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi by Maurizio de Giovanni, translation by Anne Milano Appel. Europa Editions. 9781609450946 (paperback), 216p.

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

Friday, December 18, 2015

Locations, Italy, and Winners

So, I'll reverse the title at the top. Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. The Candy Cane Cupcake Killer will go to Susan B. from Seattle, WA. Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue will go to Mary H. from St. Louis, MO.

Due to the holidays, that was the last giveaway until 2016. The next giveaway will start on Thursday, January 7.

Yesterday, we talked about what we were reading. I admitted I was having a hard time getting into a book. I found one that works. I'm reading Maurizio De Giovanni's I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi. It's set in Italy in 1931, and it features Ricciardi, responsible for investigating crime during Mussolini's reign when Il Duce proclaimed there was no crime in Italy.

So, I'm in Italy in 1931 with the book I'm currently reading. What location has drawn you in? Where are you with your current book? (And, tomorrow I'll have that review of I Will Have Vengeance.)


Thursday, December 17, 2015

What Are You Reading?

I just can't settle in with a book right now. Maybe it's the time of year. Maybe it's all the errands I've been running on my lunch hour, so I miss that hour of reading.  It doesn't happen often for me, but sometimes I just can't find the right book. Sounds funny, doesn't it, with all those books piled up?

In between other things, I'm reading The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories edited by Otto Penzler. It's enormous, but I've always enjoyed those stories.

So, while I'm finding something else to read along with it, tell us what you're reading. Or, are you having the kind of reading week I am?


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Spider Ring by Andrew Harwell

It may have taken me a while to get around to Andrew Harwell's juvenile fantasy, The Spider Ring, but I'm glad I kept it in the TBR pile. It's an excellent novel about a young girl who felt like an outcast, abandoned by friends, who discovered revenge wasn't quite what she expected.

Maria Lopez' mother worked hard as a park ranger in Florida, but Maria never could dress like her fellow students in eighth grade. While Maria's younger brother, Rafi, had a well-off friend, the girls in Maria's class made fun of her second-hand, patched clothes. Maria did have one friend, Derek, but he wasn't in the class where she was bullied. And, then there was the woman Maria really loved and admired, her grandmother, Esme.

Grandma Esme loved spiders, and taught her grandchildren to respect them. Never kill spiders because "A spider never forgets". When Grandma Esme died, she left Maria her spider-shaped ring, a ring that changed Maria's life. She found she had the ability to call spiders, to ask them for favors. And, when she used them for revenge, she called the attention of a powerful woman who threatened her and her family, the Black Widow.

Harwell's novel has a subtle message for readers, subtle because it's told in lessons from Esme to her granddaughter. "People with gifts like ours must always choose between doing what is right and what is easy." It's a story of an outcast with a chance for power, caught in a web. The story is an engrossing fantasy. And, it's an excellent story for the target audience, readers age eight to twelve or so.

Andrew Harwell's website is www.andrewharwell.com

The Spider Ring by Andrew Harwell. Scholastic Press. 2015. ISBN 9780545682909 (hardcover), 224p.

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Wives of Los Alamos by Tarashea Nesbit

I actually read Tarashea Nesbit's The Wives of Los Alamos a year ago. However, it's the book we discussed last night for our book club. Knowing I wasn't home in the evening to read, it's appropriate to re-run the review of that fascinating novel.

We were no longer in charge of ourselves or even our own names." TaraShea Nesbit's debut novel, The Wives of Los Alamos, was a surprise. I never really thought about the families of the scientists who went to Los Alamos, the secrecy, the isolation, the loneliness. Nesbit's unusual writing style emphasizes the anonymity forced on these wives. It's a powerful novel, precisely because of that style with its emphasis on a collective group.

Nesbit chose to write about "we". She did emphasize that women had different feelings and ideas, but, overall, they were caught up in one giant government project. In 1943, scientists were approached, and those who accepted told their wives they were going "out west", without telling them where they were moving. These women, wives of scientists and academics, sometimes academics and scientists themselves, were told to pack up. They couldn't tell their parents where they were going. Some of the women figured it out by going to libraries, and finding names of other scientists in the books about New Mexico. But, none of the women were prepared for the dust, the dirt, the unfinished houses, the lack of bathtubs, the military life in an isolated fenced in community.

When they arrived in Los Alamos, they were often given new names. Mrs. Mueller was suddenly Mrs. Miller. Their letters were censored. They no longer knew what their husbands were doing in their lab. These intelligent women were faced with only each other for company, a school that was not yet finished, houses that weren't yet built. They competed for larger houses, only provided when a baby was added to the family. Children grew up in Los Alamos with no contact with their grandparents, no pictures allowed of their growth. And, the women were forced to build a community with other women who were equally in the dark as to what their husbands were doing.

The Wives of Los Alamos is a powerful book because of the secrecy demanded in this community. Nesbit's style enables the reader to sink into this life where strong women were forced to live drab, anonymous lives, not knowing how other women in the world were dressing, how life was changing. From 1943 to 1945, until the atomic bomb was dropped, these women were as imprisoned in their own lives as the families who were sent to internment camps in the U.S., a comparison that was mentioned once in the book. The story is all the more dramatic because of the quiet day-to-day routine of the lives in Los Alamos, and the names and words that are never even mentioned, or not uttered until the end of the book. Nesbit never says "Manhattan Project". Most of the scientists remain unnamed until the bomb is dropped. And, the women themselves only have first names.

The Wives of Los Alamos is one of the most quietly dramatic novels I've read. Nesbit's debut is a glimpse into unknown lives, a revealing story of women forced to live in secrecy.

TaraShea Nesbit's website is www.tarasheanesbit.com

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit. Bloomsbury. 2014. ISBN 9781620405031 (hardcover), 233p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, December 14, 2015

Caught Dead Handed by Carol J. Perry

What better setting for a Halloween mystery than Salem, Massachusetts? Carol J. Perry launched her Witch City Mysteries by bringing her amateur sleuth home to Salem in Caught Dead Handed. And, Salem doesn't disappoint the reader.

Lee Barrett returns home from Florida, hoping for the on-air reporter job at WICH-TV. She grew up in Salem, living with her Aunt Ibby after Lee's parents died when she was five. Tragedy seems to follow her, though. Her husband, a NASCAR driver, died in a car accident. Now, she's back, living with her aunt. It's an odd cast of characters at the TV station, and she's angry and disappointed when she learns she flew from Florida for a job interview, and the job was already given to someone else. When she goes to her car, though, she notices a body in the water. WICH-TV moves quickly. The dead body is that of Ariel, their on-air psychic and professed witch. They immediately offer Lee the job introducing their late night horror films, and taking phone calls.

Lee's reluctant to play psychic, but it could be a stepping stone to another position at the station. Instead, it seems to be a stepping stone to danger. When another woman is killed in Salem, she's also linked to the station. And, Lee has glimpses of the murder in the obsidian ball Ariel used as a crystal ball. Is Lee a psychic herself, or is the dead witch leaving clues behind? And, why does O'Ryan, the cat who belonged to the witch, adopt Lee and her aunt?

Salem makes a perfect setting for a mystery involving a psychic and witch. It's appropriately atmospheric, with psychic fairs and gloomy days. The stories of Salem will make excellent background for additional mysteries.

Caught Dead Handed introduces an interesting cast, particularly Lee, her Aunt Ibby who was a research librarian, and Detective Pete Mondello. But, I saw the twist in the ending long before the conclusion of the story. The solution was a little weak, but it is a first mystery. I'll definitely be checking out the next book in the series.

Carol J. Perry's website is www.caroljperry.com

Caught Dead Handed by Carol J. Perry. Kensington Publishing Corp. 2014. ISBN 9781617733697 (paperback), 404p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves

Sometimes, I forget how much I love police procedurals. Then I read a book such as Ann Cleeves' latest Vera Stanhope mystery, Harbour Street. Cleeves makes me regret every book I'm reading that is not a procedural.

Just before Christmas, Detective Joe Ashworth and his daughter, Jessie, are taking the Metro train home when the train is forced to stop because of bad weather. But, Jessie had noticed an elegant looking elderly woman didn't move when everyone else got off the train. When she slipped back to wake her, she found her dead. What a mess for Joe's boss, Inspector Vera Stanhope, and her team to clean up, with passengers who had disappeared into the snowy evening.

Vera knows she's not supposed to do the day-to-day investigating work. She's to sit in the office, and supervise. But, that's not Vera Stanhope. She's a crusty, formidable woman who can be pushy at times, or quietly work her way into someone's confidences. When she learns Margaret Krukowski had lived on Harbour Street for years, Vera and the team question residents, beginning with Kate Dewar, owner of the house where Margaret lived. People seemed to see Margaret as virtuous. To some, she appeared to be a saint. But, even saints have their secrets, and Vera Stanhope is determined to discover what secret led to Margaret's murder.

Cleeves brings the village of Mardle, and Harbour Street, vividly to life. It's a fishing village, eager to be more than it is, but it appears grey and isolated at times. And, Vera's team discovers that the first murder, and a subsequent one, seem to connect to a small community in Mardle, where people have a history that goes back for years.

Cleeves' Vera Stanhope mysteries are excellent, atmospheric procedurals with a strong sense of place. They are intricately plotted, with characters that are intriguing and complicated, particularly Vera herself. She has a bleak outlook on life after a rough childhood. She broods over the cases. She sees Joe, her sergeant, as "her surrogate son, her protege, and her conscience". And, despite the fact she's supposed to be a supervisor, she obsesses over the details of every case, wanting to be right.

The Vera Stanhope mysteries are published earlier in the U.K. than they are in the U.S. This one came out a year later here. But, it's never too late to discover these atmospheric mysteries. Anyone who appreciates the step-by-step investigative techniques in a police procedural, the triumph of justice, will welcome the return of Vera Stanhope in Harbour Street.

Ann Cleeves' website is www.anncleeves.com

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves. Minotaur Books. 2015. ISBN 9781250070661 (hardcover), 376p.

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

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Favorite Gift Books

When I received all of these books yesterday, I joked on Facebook that they were all presents from Santa.



Well, they weren't really from Santa. But, I do appreciate the books from publishers, authors, and agents. Over the years, I've received wonderful gifts from authors who are also friends. I've received thoughtful gifts of books from family, everything from my first adult book, Little Women, from my parents, to last year's gift of To Dance, To Dream from my sister.

I'm sure you've received gifts of books, too; thoughtful selections from people who knew you well. And, most of us would have a hard time selecting the one gift book that meant the most. And, who wants to offend one person who gave you a book by picking a different one?

So, let's turn that question upside down. What's the best book you ever gave anyone as a gift? What was your favorite?

I have an odd answer because the book probably doesn't mean as much to my sisters as it does to me. And, probably that's true of most of the books we give as gifts. They mean more to the gift giver. We often pick them because we love them.

Connie Willis' Miracle and Other Christmas Stories is my favorite collection of Christmas stories. I had copies of that book autographed for all three of us. It means a lot to me that we all have a copy.

I did get one other special gift book, but I was never able to give it. When Jim was dying of cancer, it was close to publication date for Lee Child's next Jack Reacher book. I thought we had time. I asked Lee Child's publicist for an advanced readers' copy so Jim could read it. She sent it, but he died before it arrived. I kept the book because of the memories.

Memories, family, love. There are a lot of reasons that one book might be the favorite one you ever gave as a gift.

Do you want to share?


Friday, December 11, 2015

Winners and the last Christmas Mystery Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Joyce I. from Porter Ranch, CA won the personalized copy of Cleo Coyle's Dead to the Last Drop. And, I'll be sending a copy to Judy M. from Bradenton, FL.

It's time for the last giveaway of Christmas mysteries. The Candy Cane Cupcake Killer is by Livia J. Washburn. Phyllis Newson will be serving her candy cane cupcakes at the tree-lighting ceremony in Weatherford, Texas. And, local rancher Barney McCrory manages to charm one away from her. And, then he's dead. Fortunately for Phyllis, the man was shot, not poisoned. But, she's determined to find the man's killer.






The new Gaslight Mystery is Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue by Victoria Thompson. Mrs. O'Neill is delighted but puzzled when wealthy and charming Randolph Pollock marries her daughter, Una, a poor Irish girl. But, when Randolph is found murdered, with Una cradling the body, Mrs. O'Neill has to depend on the members of the new household formed by the marriage of Frank Malloy and Sarah Brandt. With Frank and Sarah on their honeymoon, the others step up to solve the mystery of the murder, but also the mystery as to who Randolph Pollock really was.

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 heading should read "Win Candy Cane Cupcake" or "Win St. Nicholas." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, Dec. 17 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Like Family by Paolo Giordano

If Paolo Giordano actually means his characters are Like Family, it's a sad little family in his latest novel. It's a novel that leaves readers with more questions than answers.

The unnamed narrator and his wife, Nora, have been married ten years. For most of those years, Mrs. A has been with them. She came as a companion when Nora was bedridden with her pregnancy, and then stayed as on as nanny for their son, Emanuele. The family grew dependent on Mrs. A for everything. In fact, who knows if the family would still be together without her glue. And, then Mrs. A left them abruptly, saying she was tired. That tired condition was terminal cancer.

As the narrator tells of Mrs. A's final year, he also reveals how the family revolved around her. While the narrator, a physicist, looked at jobs away from Italy, Nora and Mrs. A plotted to stay in Italy, at home. Mrs. A was the one to see Emanuele's first step. She was the one to pamper the narrator himself while Nora was out of town. As much as the family depended on her, they didn't know how to cope with her cancer, or, how to cope without her in the house.

Perhaps this novel was more appealing in the original Italian. Perhaps I really don't appreciate literary novels. But, I found this a sad book, a sad family. And, everything the narrator said revealed them as selfish, concerned only with their own lives, and not with the woman who had cared for them for eight years. Yes, he took her to get a wig. Yes, Nora visited. But, when they visited as a family, they eyed paintings and furniture, questioning Mrs. A as to who would get it.

Like Family revealed a self-centered family. Who knows if they'll manage to stay together after Mrs. A? Who cares? They really don't come across "like family".

Like Family by Paolo Giordano. English translation by Anne Milano Appel. Viking. 2015. ISBN 9780525428763 (hardcover), 146p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book