Sunday, January 31, 2016

Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton

I haven't read the other novels nominated for the 2016 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, but I can see why Glen Erik Hamilton's Past Crimes was nominated. It's a strong, fast-paced story with an intriguing hero, and a victim who is just as fascinating.

Army Ranger Van Shaw was already stateside recuperating from his latest injuries when the message in Gaelic came from his estranged grandfather. "Come home, if you can." Since he was getting antsy waiting to rejoin his unit, he heads to Seattle. He arrives just in time to find his grandfather bleeding on the floor of his house while someone flees the scene. Once the police arrive, and Donovan Shaw is rushed to the hospital, it doesn't take long for them to focus on Dono's arrest record, and to question why Van showed up after being gone for ten years.

Dono Shaw was a thief who taught his grandson the business, "About stealing cars and forgery and security alarms. And money. How to find it, how to take it, how to hide it." Van fled that life when he left home at eighteen and joined the army. Now, he's reluctantly drawn back into that world as he tries to find the person who attempted to kill his grandfather. And, it will take some help from Dono's old friends as Van tries to uncover the secrets behind Dono's last job.

Hamilton's debut crime novel is an intense, action-packed story. Hamilton seems to have all the skills needed for success. The book is skillfully written, with flashbacks to earlier episodes in Van Shaw's life. And, those flashbacks build to a climax revealing why Van left home at eighteen, and, ultimately, revealing to Van himself who attacked his grandfather. All the characters are vividly brought to life; Van, his best friend, Davey, Dono's old friends. And, Hamilton manages to build the entire story around Dono Shaw without Dono actually taking the stage.

Glen Erik Hamilton's Past Crimes is an accomplished debut. I'm eager to read the March follow-up, Hard Cold Winter. I suspect this skilled author won't suffer from a sophomore slump.

Glen Erik Hamilton's website is

Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton. William Morrow. 2015. 9780062344557 (hardcover), 324p.

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

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Where We Belong by Hoda Kotb

Hoda Kotb, with co-author Jane Lorenzini, took a look at several people who found their true calling in life. The resulting book,Where We Belong: Journeys That Show Us the Way, also includes short articles about a couple celebrities who took unusual paths in life.

I found the first account, that of Michelle Hauser, to be the most interesting. She didn't have the easiest life. Her parents divorced when she was young. She started working part-time when she was twelve. She was caught up with the wrong crowd, took drugs in high school, but continued to get As in school. She married too young, continued to work, and ended up in the wrong college for her, one that was religion-based. But, through all of the changes in her life, she kept her eye on her vision, that she wanted to be a medical doctor although she had been told by a counselor to consider a job in a factory. Michelle Hauser "found a way to rewrite her story", and her resulting story is inspiring.

In between the stories that are meant to inspire, there are accounts from Margaret Cho and Laila Ali, short reports from women who took untraditional routes for women, one as a comedian and one as a boxer.

There are stories of several couples, one couple that changed their entire lifestyle in their fifties; one in which the husband decided to make a major change in life, a change that his wife didn't agree with.

I was actually disappointed in this book, but that's because my expectations were different. I expected a book about people who made radical changes in their life to find their happiness. And, I'm going to say the authors felt all these people made those changes. My favorite story, about Hauser, really felt as if she set out on her path early in life, and didn't really change those dreams. And, even though the three couples in this book all came together finally with their decisions, I felt as if these were all changes in which the male in the relationship decided to go in a radical direction, and the woman fell in line. To me, the strongest women in the book were the ones who made their own decisions, Hauser, Cho and Ali.

As I said, it's just my opinion. Where We Belong just didn't live up to my expectations.

Where We Belong: Journeys That Show Us the Way by Hoda Kotb and Jane Lorenzini. Simon & Schuster. 2016. ISBN 9781476752426 (hardcover), 252p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, January 29, 2016

Winners and a Ghostly Mysteries Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Kathleen C. from Stockton, CA won Julia Buckley's The Big Chili. And, Elaine R. from Jamesville, NC will receive Ellen Byron's Plantation Shudders. The books will go out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away two mysteries featuring ghosts. If Onions Could Spring Leeks is a Country Cooking School Mystery by Paige Shelton, but there are always ghosts in the books in this series. Ghosts of the Old West show up in Broken Rope, Missouri, seeking help from Betts Winston and her grandmother. This time, a ghostly visitor appears by ghost train. Betts wants to track down the woman's history, while Gram starts having nightmares about their visitor's death. While they're looking into the past, one of the town's volunteers is murdered. It's time to solve two mysteries.

Fran Stewart's A Wee Dose of Death features a fourteenth-century Scot stuck in contemporary Vermont. It's not easy for Dirk to adjust to life with Peggy Winn, owner of the ScotShop. But, when a professor is found dead, possibly killed over a secret project, Peggy and Dirk must set aside their differences to find a killer.

Which ghostly mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Onions" or "Win A Wee Dose." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, Feb. 4 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What are You Reading?

Technically, I should have finished a book to review today, but I spent time on the phone the last couple nights talking family genealogy with my mom and sisters. So, I didn't finish either of the books I'm reading. I'm reading Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton, one of the Edgar nominees for Best First novel. Sixty pages in, and I'm impressed. I'm also reading Where We Belong by Hoda Kotb, a fascinating nonfiction book about people who find where they really belong in life. Reviews will be forthcoming on both of them. And, sooner or later, I'll have an interview with Glen Erik Hamilton.

What are you reading today? Fiction? Nonfiction? Both? Are you one of those people who read a couple books at a time? (I am.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Helene Gremillon, Author Interview

This was a little different. I'm not a big fan of interviews when I don't know who the interviewer is. However, since I don't speak or write French to ask questions of Helene Gremillon, I thought it would be interesting to publish the interview with the author of the psychological thriller, The Case of Lisandra P. The interview is courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Q&A with Hélène Grémillon, author of
The Case of Lisandra P.
A Penguin Original

Hello Hélène! You are an internationally acclaimed author whose first novel is The Confidant. For American readers who are just getting to know you, what draws you to the thriller genre? What inspires you as a writer?

In writing, I’m above all interested in suspense and psychological qualities. How do human beings feel ? How do human beings react ? Love, hate… Their qualities, their flaws, and how much all of that is subjective. The Confidant was already based on that pattern. Jealousy was the main feeling I want to develop in The Case of Lisandra P. It carries in its wake cruelty, destructive paranoia, and sorrow for the victim but also in the person who feels jealousy. Jealousy is infernal in nature. In comparison with The Confidant, The Case of Lisandra P. is more in line with the thriller genre: Indeed there’s a corpse! A shrink’s wife is found dead, the shrink is accused of murder, and one of his patients try to prove he is innocent, looking for the real murderer among his others patients. That is the pitch, the impulse which has driven my writing.

The Case of Lisandra P., your current novel, is set in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1987 and the book notes it is based on a true story. How did you get the idea for this book? Did you visit Buenos Aires during your research?

The Case of Lisandra P. begins with “the book is based on a true story” but it’s a kind of a “lie”… The book is not based on a true story, but this sentence won me, I was sure it was the best one to start the novel, the best tone. To put me at ease with my “lie”, my publisher told me “Hélène, the fiction can begin where the author wants…” In a way I agree and I kept it! But no mistake, I didn’t want to mislead my readers, it’s more mysterious. When I’m writing, I hesitate, I doubt, then when something sounds obvious to me I can’t deny it. Nevertheless everything I wrote about the historical context is perfectly true, in each detail, and also the case of Miguel, one of the shrink’s patients.
At the beginning, of course, I had planned to make a trip in Argentine but the more I went on my writing, the more my ideas were definite and bright, the less I wanted to go to Buenos Aires. I was afraid to mix up everything in my mind. I just needed to stay and concentrate behind my writing desk. Then I didn’t go.

Your characters are living in the aftermath of a brutal dictatorship. Their psychological scars run deep. How did you begin to imagine these individuals?

I never went to Argentina but I did read a lot of books about the dictatorship, and I saw a lot of films. Then I invented my characters with this stuff, the real events help me to imagine a lot of situations.  With my characters, the first thing I imagined was to put in the novel three plain psychoanalytic sessions, only dialogues, like three drama shows in the heart of the novel.

Your book opens with the untimely death of a beautiful young woman and goes on to explore her marriage to a psychoanalyst. What attracted you to the idea of writing about a marriage after one of the pair dies mysteriously?

My book explores Lisandra’s marriage after she died mysteriously. Love is one of my deep obsessions, this passionate feeling, alienating one, so different for everybody. It is my main source of inspiration. Jubilant and painful.

What do you like to read? Who are some of your favorite mystery/thriller authors?

I love mystery authors, they are my favorite to read. I love classics like Georges Simenon, a prolific French author, Maurice Leblanc, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, I remember even how much I loved the children’s books Alfred Hitchcock wrote, gorgeous. And I have recently read two books I found really good, Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson and The Ice Twins by S.K. Treymane. I had to stop this last one in the night because I was so afraid I had to wait for the sunrise to go on reading… The proof the thriller won!

About the AuthorHélène Grémillon was born in France in 1977. After obtaining degrees in literature and history, she worked as a journalist at the French newspaper Le Figaro before becoming a full-time writer. Her first novel, The Confidant, was awarded Monaco’s Prince Pierre Literary Prize. She lives in Paris with her partner, singer and songwriter Julien Clerc, and their child.

About the TranslatorAlison Anderson is an American writer and translator based in Switzerland. Her translations include J. M. G. Le Clézio’s Onitsha, Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and Hélène Grémillon’s first novel, The Confidant.
A Novel
Hélène Grémillon
Translated by Alison Anderson

A Penguin Paperback Original | Penguin Books | 9780143126584| 304 pages | On sale: January 12, 2016| $16.00

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Coffee Table Books

Today, my subject is coffee table books. But, not just any coffee table books. I don't bring home a lot of them, but two of them caught my attention at the library because I always loved their subjects. And, the third book is about one of my passions, Broadway. I bought that one.

I wish you could see the photographs in all of these books. Musicals: The Definitive Illustrated Story covers musical theater, from Tin Pan Alley and Broadway to the movies of Hollywood. Musical theater is discussed beginning with the early history. And, each show is covered in detail, including composers, performers, show posters. Show Boat is the first show, with key facts; Oscar Hammerstein II was the director of the stage show, based on Edna Ferber's book. Jerome Kern wrote the music. Lyrics are by Hammerstein.  It opened Dec. 27, 1927 at Ziegfeld Theater, New York. It discusses the importance of London's West End. It's a fascinating book. Anyone who loves history of the theater will love the stories of the songs. And, of course it covers everyone - Ira and George Gershwin, George Kaufman, Busby Berkeley. There are the movies that starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. There are timelines for important shows such as The Wizard of Oz. And, of course,  the work of today's masters, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim, are covered. Musicals: The Definitive Illustrated Story is a fascinating compilation for anyone interested in musical theater.

The editors of Southern Living bring us a gorgeous book, as beautiful as their magazine. Southern Living: 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture covers the history and coverage of that magazine. I loved that magazine, and subscribed to it for fifteen years while I lived in Florida. It truly does meet the original mission of championing "the region's food, homes, gardens, cities, arts, literature, and natural beauty". Southern Living was always stunning. It usually has picture of food on the cover. They asked readers, home cooks, to share their recipes. Those recipes, some of which are included in the book, were for fried chicken, biscuits, gumbo, potato salad, ham, gorgeous cakes, "classic Southern dishes". The magazine always celebrated the homes and gardens, the family reunions, the crafts and beauty of the South. It's still a joy to pick up the this book and see that celebration of the South.

I wish there was an attractive cover on the book I bought because I'm so excited about it.  I can't wait to get into Eric Grode's Book of Broadway: 150 Definitive Plays and Musicals. Each show has two pages. I'll just pick one show. There are two photos for The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart, and Richard Stilgoe. There's humor in Grode's writing. "His original plan was to rely on existing opera music; luckily for him and his accountant, that plan changed." The history of the show is covered. And, each piece has a sidebar with dates, synopsis, awards, noted revivals and adaptations, and a list of the original stars. With my passion for live theater, I couldn't be any happier that I bought this book.

As I said, I borrowed two of these beautiful coffee table books from the library. So, I'm not saying you should spend the money for expensive books. I just wanted to share three books I'm finding fascinating.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Copy Cap Murder by Jenn McKinlay

It's only appropriate to celebrate Jenn McKinlay's latest Hat Shop Mystery, Copy Cap Murder, with fireworks. It's a mystery that starts with Guy Fawkes Day and murder, but also serves up a healthy portion of romantic fireworks.

While Scarlett Parker, the American co-owner of the London hat shop, Mim's Whims, is on her eighth month of not dating, that doesn't mean she's any less interested in her friend and business manager, Harrison Wentworth. So, Scarlett, her cousin, Vivian, and their friends are excited when Harrison issues an invitation to his firm's Guy Fawkes party. But, even posh parties include sloppy drunks. When Winthrop Dashavoy accosts Scarlett, Harrison defends her. Of course, when Winthrop, Harrison's office rival and lifelong enemy, ends up dead, the fight puts Harrison right on top of the suspect list.

As usual, Scarlett and Viv team up to ask a few inappropriate questions. While Harrison appreciates their concern, he's worried the two women have made themselves targets. And, when Scarlett is followed by someone in a Guy Fawkes mask, she knows she's stirred up trouble.

Copy Cap Murder may be one of Jenn McKinlay's best stories. Scarlett is settling into her new life, although she's terribly homesick, missing her parents. McKinlay throws a crumb to readers of her Library Lover's mysteries by mentioning that Scarlett's parents recently bought a cottage in Briar Creek, Connecticut, where there's "a lively library". And, there's a great deal of sexual tension as Scarlett tries to keep her hands off Harrison with her no dating policy. Fortunately, McKinlay doesn't make the mistake of adding a second romantic interest to the mix when readers are already fond of Harrison.

Copy Cap Murder is a treat, with a surprising villain. While Scarlett mentions feeling "comforted and cared for", the reader will feel the same. McKinlay's combination of humor, mystery, sexual tension, and friendship between her wonderful characters makes this an enjoyable series.

Jenn McKinlay's website is

Copy Cap Murder by Jenn McKinlay. Berkley Prime Crime. 2016. ISBN 9780425279588 (paperback), 292p.

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

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Book Chat - February's Cozy Mysteries from Penguin

This month, Jinx is the cat du jour. Always a popular appearance.

Here are the books featured in this month's book chat. Enjoy!

For Cheddar or Worse by Avery Aames (7th Cheese Shop Mystery)
Off the Books by Lucy Arlington (5th Novel Idea Mystery)
Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna by Maia Chance (3rd Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery)
A Turn for the Bad by Sheila Connolly (4th County Cork Mystery)
The Grim Steeper by Amanda Cooper (3rd Teapot Collector Mystery)
Darned If You Do by Monica Ferris (18th Needlecraft Mystery, 1st time in paperback)
Town in a Cinnamon Toast by B.B. Haywood (7th Candy Holliday Murder Mystery)
Scene of the Brine by Mary Ellen Hughes (3rd Pickled & Preserved Mystery)
A Familiar Tail by Delia James (1st Witch's Cat Mystery)
Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James (6th Cat in the Stacks Mystery, 1st time in paperback)
A Whisker of Trouble by Sofie Ryan (3rd Second Chance Cat Mystery)
A Disguise to Die For by Diane Vallere (1st Costume Shop Mystery)
It's a Wonderful Knife by Christine Wenger (5th Comfort Food Mystery)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson's plans to take the test for British citizenship was one of the catalysts for his latest book. Twenty years after he wrote Notes from a Small Island, it was time to take stock of his new country. The result is The Road to Little Dribbling, about his walks from the southern part of Britain to the northernmost point.

Once again, Bryson roves about the British countryside, relating history, stories of roads, small towns, eccentric people, anecdotes about heroism. He has stories about British mythology and ancient Britain, stories about Stonehenge and the wrong information about King Arthur. In typical Bryson style, he rants about the roads, the idiotic plans for the country's airports. He rues the loss of charming shops and villages, the loss of quaint life as he remembers it. And, he does all of it with Bryson's sarcasm and humor.

At the same time, Bill Bryson realizes how lucky he is to live in Britain. And, he's aware of its beauty. He first went to Britain when he was twenty. "Gradually it dawned on me that I had found a country that was wholly strange to me and yet somehow marvelous. It is a feeling that has never left me." And, he sees London as the best city in the world. He spends quite a bit of time raving about its beauty, and all the parks that make it so beautiful. And, he celebrates all the neighborhoods and special places in the city. "London isn't a place at all. It's a million little places."

Don't read The Road to Little Dribbling as I did, straight through. Bryson's book actually becomes too  much, too many details, if you read it all at one time. Instead, it might be smart to read a chapter, and pick it up again for another chapter. That's really what I've thought of some of his earlier books as well, better in small doses.

No matter how you read it, though, you'll regret you didn't know Britain twenty-some years ago. It's Bryson's own comments that make you feel that way. "I really do think Britain had attained something approaching perfection just around the time of my arrival."

Bill Bryson's website is

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. Doubleday. 2016. ISBN 9780385539289 (hardcover), 400p.

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

Friday, January 22, 2016

Winners and Series Debuts

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Ann Cleeves' Thin Air is heading to Nancy W. from Saint Paul, MN. Robin C. of Ashtabula, OH won Betty Webb's The Puffin of Death. I'll get them out as soon as the weather allows.

This week, I'm giving away the first mysteries in two series. Plantation Shudders is Ellen Byron's first Cajun Country Mystery. Maggie Crozat returned home to her family's plantation bed-and-breakfast in Louisiana just in time for the local food festival. It's also just in time to witness the sudden death of a couple. And, now, everyone at the B&B, including Maggie, is a murder suspect.

The Big Chili is Julia Buckley's first Undercover Dish Mystery. Lilah Drake wants to own her own catering company. But, until she can, she's been busy providing covered dishes for neighbors who want others to think they made the dish. That works just fine until someone drops dead at a church bingo night after eating chili that Lilah made for a client. Lilah has to find the killer before she loses her clients, and her future business.

Which series would you like to discover? You can enter to win both titles, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Plantation Shudders" or "Win The Big Chili." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, Jan. 28 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

"Can you smell it? The scent of new books. Unread adventures. Friends you haven't met yet, hours of magical escapism awaiting you." If those words from Katarina Bivald'sThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend don't entice you into the latest love letter to readers, then this book won't work for you.

Sara Lindqvist left Sweden to visit Amy Harris in Broken Wheel, Iowa because the two women shared a passion for books. They talked about books in their letters, sent each other gifts of books, and Amy introduced Sara to residents of the small town, population 637. Sara is eager to meet Amy, talk about books, and meet the people Amy loved. But, when Sara arrives for her two month visit, she finds the funeral guests at Amy's house. What's Sara going to do for two months in a dying Iowa town? Once she's walked up and down the several streets, several times, once she's been to the bar called the Square, the local diner, the hardware store that sells groceries, once she's seen all the empty storefronts, she's seen Broken Wheel.

But, people in Broken Wheel are determined to take care of Sara because they loved Amy. The town council even take her on as a project. People not only drive her around, they won't let her pay for anything. In desperation, determined to pay them back somehow, Sara opens the Oak Tree Bookstore, using Amy's books to start the collection. But, people in Broken Wheel don't know what to do with a bookstore. But, when Sara "talks" to Amy, she says, "We'll spread books and stories in Broken Wheel together." And, it isn't long before Sara's spreading more than stories. She's spreading hope and a future.

Bivald's book may not be exactly subtle, with names such as Broken Wheel and Hope for communities. But, oh, it's a story for book lovers. Sara is a passionate reader, and she's determined to find the right book for everyone, whether it's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, Helen Fielding's novels, Terry Pratchett's books. Sara discusses books and authors, reliable and unreliable authors.

And, she shares her books with all the quirky residents of this broken town - Grace, the loud, strong woman, the gay men who run the bar and tell her she doesn't carry erotic literature for them, George who is still mourning the daughter who disappeared from his life, Caroline, the formidable woman who works as if driven by commandments, Jen, who sees everything as an item for the hometown newsletter, Amy's nephew, Tom, who sees a duty to Broken Wheel. It's a community that made me laugh out loud at times with some of their plans. But, it's a community of survivors who are used to looking out for each other. And, now they've taken Sara under their wing. And, they're determined to keep her in Broken Wheel.

"Can you smell it? The scent of new books. Unread adventures. Friends you haven't met yet, hours of magical escapism awaiting you." Thank you, Katarina Bivald, for characters who became friends, for Sara Lindqvist, a wonderful book lover. Thank you for The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.

Katarina Bivald's website is

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. Sourcebooks Landmark. 9781492623441 (paperback), 400p.

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What Are You Reading?

I'm reading the most charming book I've read this year. If I hadn't worked yesterday, I could have finished Katarina Bivald's The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. It's about books and a bookstore and a stranger who helps to build a community. Love it, love it. And, I can't wait to finish it, and actually tell you more about it.

So, what have you read lately that you loved? Yes, I loved Nora Roberts' Irish Born series, but, oh, this book is special. Have you read something you loved lately? And, if not, just tell us what you're reading, please.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson

When Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr survives a near fatal bout of scarlet fever after suffering through the scandal of a broken engagement, she's determined to LIVE. Moonlight Over Paris is Jennifer Robson's story of Helena's efforts to change her life, efforts that take her to the artistic world of Paris in the 1920s.

In 1924, Helena heads to Paris to spend twelve months with her Aunt Agnes. She's also enrolled in art school, dreaming of being an artist in her late 20s. She already has a role model. Agnes fell in love with a married Russian, and lived with him for ten years before they married. Agnes has money, position, and, best of all friends, some leading lives the naive Helena never would have imagined. Now, it's her turn to build a life in Paris, making friends with fellow classmates, aspiring artists. And, she makes friends with an American journalist, Sam Howard, a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. And, Helena knows her friendships, and the deepening feelings for Sam, would be totally unsuitable in British society.

The voice of Helena's future is often her aunt, the guiding force who urges her to grab her chance at happiness. It's Agnes who encourages her to fight for her art, and to fight for the man she loves, for her happiness. "That my dear, is the mark of a modern woman." Robson's Moonlight Over Paris is a romanticized story of Paris in the 1920s, and the changes in women, from wives and mothers who seldom knew their husbands, to women who grabbed for their own happiness.

Robson's book is a leisurely-paced account of the growth of a young woman into an artist, a year in which Helena totally changes her dreams and her aspirations. It's at atmospheric depiction of Paris in the 1920s, the writers, the artists, the jazz clubs. There are appearances by Ernest and Hadley Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Helena meets all of them, through her aunt, family friends, or Sam. She's leading a life that revolves around the salons and gatherings of Paris. Robson brings it all to life through Helena's eyes, through the atmosphere, the food, the clothes, the day-to-day descriptions of life.

So, travel back in time. Robson offers readers the chance to capture the glamour and romance of Paris, the mystery and magic of life in that city in the 1920s in Moonlight Over Paris.

Jennifer Robson's website is

Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson. William Morrow. 2016. ISBN 9780062389824 (paperback), 336p.

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

Monday, January 18, 2016

American Housewife by Helen Ellis

If you're looking for a snarky collection of short stories with a woman's point of view, check out Helen Ellis' American Housewife.

Ellis' viewpoint of the life of an American housewife is funny, snarky, and, in a couple cases, just mean. Who wouldn't appreciate the email conversation between two neighbors that ends in outright war, "The Wainscoting War"? Some of the entries are made of lists, such as the so-on-target "How to be a Grown-ass Lady" with advice such as "Get your Pap smears and mammograms. Get your teeth cleaned. Join a book club. Join two." That list goes on, and is so recognizable. Or, there's "Take it from Cats", a two-page entry as to how to live your life based on cat behavior.

The story "Dead Doormen" is just creepy. And, "Pageant Protection" about the tiny beauty pageant competitor going into a program that hides her has interesting twists. But, my absolute favorite was "Dumpster Diving with the Stars", the story of a writer who goes on a reality show. It has the kind of ending that many of us would love to see. This one was perfect, with a stellar cast, including some recognizable names.

Helen Ellis must have a twisted sense of humor. American Housewife is filled with dark, funny ideas most of us would never think about at all. And, now she puts some interesting thoughts in our heads.

American Housewife by Helen Ellis. Doubleday. 2015. ISBN 9780385541039 (paperback), 208p.

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

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein

Chris Grabenstein's latest middle school book is for all of us who love libraries, kids in libraries, and everything libraries stand for. I can't discuss Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics as passionately as I would like to without spoiling a main plot point. So, no matter how the review sounds, try this fun story.

Kyle Keeley and his friends in Alexandriaville, Ohio, may have won gamemaker Luigi Lemoncello's first competition in his unique library, but now middle school library lovers throughout the country are saying it isn't fair that only the kids from Mr. Lemoncello's hometown were allowed to compete. So, the gamemaker sets up a nationwide competition, and kids through the country compete to represent their region in the Library Olympics. Kyle and his team represent the Home Team, but that doesn't mean they have a better chance than the other teams.

It's a competition amongst teams of the top library nerds in the country, and once Kyle sees Marjory Muldauer, he's afraid he and his friends don't have a chance. She knows everything about the Dewey Decimal System. But, some of the games involve knowledge of books, research skills, and book cart relays. The winners will receive full scholarships to the colleges of their choices. And, Marjory, along with a few interested townspeople, are determined that Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics will not be the fun, innovative event he planned.

Once again, Chris Grabenstein manages to make books and reading fun. His latest book builds in intensity as the competition heats up. It's an action-packed, plot-driven story. Readers of all ages should appreciate the whimsical book, filled with literary references, wordplay, and outrageous humor at times. It's a witty, inspiring story.

I'm a big fan of all of Grabenstein's books, adult and juvenile. But, for a book lover, this one is perfect with the love of books and libraries. It even contains a complete book list of every book mentioned in Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics. Give it to any middle school reader who wants humor and competition. For some, the passion for books will be a bonus. It always is for this book and library lover.

Chris Grabenstein's website is

Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein. Random House. 2016. ISBN 9780553510409 (hardcover), 278p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Secret Sisters by Jayne Ann Krentz

After reading Jayne Ann Krentz' Secret Sisters, I wondered why it had been so long since I've read one of her books. She's a master at romantic suspense. This book is a page-turner, one that keeps the reader guessing until the very end with its twists and turns.

When Madeline Chase and her best friend, Daphne Knight, were twelve years old, a sexual predator targeted them, picking the smaller of the two as his victim. It was a night that scarred both girls for life.

Eighteen years later, Madeline returns to the scene, the deteriorating Aurora Point Hotel on Cooper Island in Washington. Her grandmother had owned the hotel, but when Madeline, her grandmother, and Daphne and her mother fled that horrific night, the property was left in the hands of a caretaker. Now, Madeline's grandmother is dead, and the caretaker has called, saying he failed in his duty to keep their secrets safe. When Madeline finds the dying man, struck down by an attacker, she knows she's the next target. She calls Jack Rayner, the head of Rayner Risk Management, the security team for Madeline's inherited string of boutique hotels. It doesn't take Jack long to determine that Daphne might also be in danger. The two women, who hadn't seen each other since they escaped eighteen years earlier, are now reunited. And, someone knows the secrets Madeline's grandmother tried to hide all those years ago.

Jack Rayner is a professional, and he soon discovers someone on Cooper Island has an interest in keeping those secrets hidden. And, there are a number of secrets a powerful family might want to keep buried. As he and his brother, a computer genius, work to protect the two women, they uncover the truth, and the evil, behind a facade.

Krentz' latest novel introduces characters who are strong because of their weaknesses. Madeline and Jack, along with Daphne and Abe, are likable, ordinary people, caught in a dangerous game. There's enough tension to keep any reader on the edge of their seat.

Secret Sisters is a book to recommend to anyone who likes romantic suspense, with the emphasis on suspense. Fans of Heather Graham's Krewe of Hunters books will find this book appealing. If, like me, you haven't read one of Jayne Ann Krentz' books in a while, it might be time to go back and pick up this one.

Jayne Ann Krentz' website is

Secret Sisters by Jayne Ann Krentz. Berkley Books. 2015. ISBN 9780399174483 (hardcover), 342p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, January 15, 2016

Winners and a European Giveaway

Congratulations to the winner of the Anne Cleeland giveaway. Susan R. from Nashville, TN won, and Cleeland will be sending her a personalized set of the Action/Doyle mysteries. Enjoy!

I have two mysteries set in Europe to give away this week, one much darker than the other. You don't have to have read Betty Webb's earlier Gunn Zoo mysteries to pick up Puffin of Death since Webb sends her amateur sleuth off to Iceland. California zookeeper Theodora (Teddy) Bentley is sent to pick up an orphaned polar bear for the zoo, but she has the chance to see some of the country. Too bad she also sees a corpse, a fellow American. And, it seems any number of people could have wanted the man dead.

Or, you could win Ann Cleeves' Shetland mystery, Thin Air. A group of old university friends travel to Shetland to celebrate a wedding. But, one disappears, apparently into thin air. When her body is found, Detectives Jimmy Perez and Willow Reeves are sent to investigate. The victim had claimed to see the ghost of a drowned child. How does a death in the 1920s connect to this modern case?

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win The Puffin of Death" or "Win Thin Air." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Jan. 21 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What Are You Reading?

I have a pile of books that I'm sampling this week, but the one I'm carrying with me to work is Jayne Ann Krentz' Secret Sisters. I used to read her books on a regular basis, but when I looked back at the blog, I must not have read one of her novels in over eleven years. I guess it's been a while! Secret Sisters is romantic suspense,  a novel about secrets from eighteen years earlier that come back to haunt two women. I'm only seventy pages into it, but I'm enjoying it so far. I'm also reading a book for a journal review, and testing a couple other titles.

What are you reading this week? Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton

Paige Shelton, author of the Farmers' Market Mysteries, as well as one of my favorite series, the Country Cooking School Mysteries, launches a new series with To Helvetica and Back. And, everything in this book lines up perfectly for success.

Clare Henry and her grandfather, Chester, own The Rescued Word, a little shop in Star City, Utah. They do some printing, restore old books, sell stationery and pens, and repair old typewriters. It's one of those typewriters, an old Underwood, that causes problems. An author friend of Chester's brings it in for repair, but before she even leaves the store, a scruffy looking man in leather is across the counter, demanding it from Clare. When her niece calls the police, he leaves. But, Clare's a little shaken, sets all their security alarms that evening before she works too late, and falls asleep in the store. And, the next morning, the security cameras only show a pair of leather shoes in the alley. That's where Clare and Chester find the body of their leather-clad visitor.

How can one typewriter lead to murder? Clare and Chester are both taken in for questioning, and Clare has a few questions of her own for her grandfather. Where was he the night of the murder? Although Clare's best friend, Jodie Wentworth, is one of the investigating officers, Clare can't help asking a few questions around town. And, a little too much information can become dangerous in the hands of the wrong Henry family member.

Shelton is on her way to another successful series. Star City is ripe for murder. A skiers' paradise that attracts visitors, an old mining community, it also is home to a monastery and a polygamist compound. It's a quirky little town, perfect for a mystery series. And, the characters are delightful. Clare and her family are charming. She's a long-time friend of a police officer, and she turns her information over to her. But, that friendship can get a little awkward when it comes to interference in their dating lives. Clare is likable, a little nerdy, and attractive. She's a little too nosy for her own good, but she wouldn't be an amateur sleuth if she wasn't nosy.

To Helvetica and Back introduces an engaging set of characters in an attractive setting. First impression? Up to Shelton's high standards.

Paige Shelton's website is

To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton. Berkley Prime Crime. 2016. ISBN 9780425277256 (paperback), 293p.

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Born in Shame by Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts wraps up her Irish Born trilogy, the stories of three sisters, with the mystical Born in Shame. Born in Fire was the story of Maggie Concannon, the oldest sister, a tempestuous glass artist. In Born in Ice, she tells the story of Brianna, the quiet sister who longed for home and peace. But, this story closes the circle as Roberts intended when she introduces the American sister, Shannon Bodine.

When Tom Concannon died, he was staring out to sea, and whispered a name Maggie never heard before. On her deathbed, Shannon's mother, Amanda, told her she was the daughter of an Irishman, Tom Concannon, not the man she knew as her father. And, when a private detective shows up, sent from Ireland, an angry Shannon travels to Ireland to meet the sisters she never knew she had. She finds Maggie confrontational, Brianna eager to be friends, and she's the only one strong enough to go toe-to-toe with Maggie and Brianna's unforgiving mother, Maeve. But, she doesn't know how to handle her dreams of the past in Ireland or Murphy Muldoon. Murphy may be a successful farmer who feels like a brother to Maggie and Brianna. But, from the moment Shannon and Murphy meet, they feel as if they've loved, and parted, before.

How does Nora Roberts do it? How does she make all of her characters strong individuals who can carry a story? In this case, it's a story out of time, a story of two people who recognize they have a history. While one is eager to accept it, the other fights against change and magic and history. Roberts beautifully handles sisterhood and family issues, romance and magic, in a powerful conclusion to the series.

And Ireland. It comes alive in this book even more than the others, as seen through the eyes of an American. It's green and stormy and cold. It's farmland and Dublin. And, it's music and family and that Irish lilt. Roberts makes any reader eager to find the beauty of the country.

Born in Shame is a successful, satisfying culmination to a wonderful series. It's just hard to let go of Nora Roberts' characters, characters who become living people through her skillful, gifted writing.

Nora Roberts' website is

Born in Shame by Nora Roberts. Berkley Books. ISBN 9780425266113 (paperback), 351p.

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

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake by Terry Shames

The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake marks the return of one of the most engaging lawmen in Texas, Terry Shames' police chief, Samuel Craddock. The unpretentious, old-fashioned man knows just how to investigate a case in Jarrett Creek, but discovers that even an old dog can learn from a young pup.

No one in Jarrett Creek is happy to learn Nonie Blake has been released from a mental institution. She was incarcerated twenty years earlier when the fourteen-year-old tried to hang her younger sister. But, now she's back on the Blake ranch. Despite the buzz in town, Craddock has no reason to talk to the family until they call to say Nonie drowned on their property.

Nonie didn't exactly drown. It only takes minutes for Craddock to see that someone struck her on the head. And, the likely suspects are family members. But, the reclusive Blakes have little to say to the lawman, at least little that makes sense. However, it isn't until after the funeral that he discovers Nonie was released from the mental hospital ten years earlier. So, where has she been for ten years, and what secrets are the family hiding on their ranch?

Craddock always thought he could find the solutions to local crimes. "I have a good chance of getting to the bottom of a problem through my knowledge of the town and its workings; through the past and my relationships with people." But, it's not working in the Blake case. And, Craddock's new deputy, Maria Trevino, has other ideas. She heard about small-town cops at the police academy, and their ideas of just asking questions. She would rather put her boots on the ground, and she's ready to look for hard evidence. Together, Craddock and Trevino may find a surprising answer.

Craddock has always been a low-key investigator, and Shames' stories unravel at a leisurely pace as he talks to people. This style works for the series. Craddock is an appealing hero, and Maria Trevino is a likable addition to the cast. However, it was difficult to get invested in this mystery with a family that is so untrustworthy. In the case of The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake, only Craddock really cares about the convoluted answers to the Blake case.

Terry Shames' website is

The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake by Terry Shames. Seventh Street Books. 2016. ISBN 9781633881204 (paperback), 253p.

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

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sweet Pepper Hero by J.J. Cook

Sweet Pepper, Tennessee is known for its peppers, its ghosts, and the secrets kept in a small mountain community. When author J.J. Cook thrusts fire chief Stella Griffin into the middle of local whiskey wars in Sweet Pepper Hero, Stella and the reader discover how explosive mountain secrets can become.

Stella's already in hot water. The ghost of the previous fire chief, Eric Gamlyn, has been gone for five months. Not only does she miss her resident ghost, she's not really equipped to take over his job as judge of the recipes for the summer festival. He was quite a cook, and Stella didn't mind taking credit for the dishes he whipped up. Now, she's stuck, so when police chief Don Rogers stops in asking for help in an arson investigation, she's eager to drop her apron.

The whiskey wars are heating up. The ATF is cracking down, and when Rogers found an illegal still, the operator was killed and a police officer injured when it blew up. And, that's only the first "accident". It seems there are more illegal stills in Sweet Pepper than Stella would have suspected. But, despite his request for help, Don and the local sheriff seem to have secrets, and, at times they're freezing Stella out of the investigation. When Stella herself becomes a victim of the wars, her volunteers in the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade rally around her.

Stella manages to rescue her ghost, and Eric returns the favor in this action-packed mystery that intensifies quickly. As always, there's ghostly humor amidst the serious business of putting out fires, saving lives, and finding the person behind the exploding stills. But, even as a hero to most in the community, Stella always ends up riling up someone, leaving them to threaten retaliation in an ending that leaves readers wondering.

Fire chief Stella Griffin is a tough, determined woman, who has earned the respect of most in the community. She leads a team of heroic volunteers on a daily basis. But, there's an unstable element in town, some who are power hungry, and that adds to the volatile atmosphere. When the whiskey wars are raging in Sweet Pepper, it takes a pair of two cool fire chiefs to uncover the explosive truth.

Strong characters, amusing moments, and danger are a recipe for success in J.J. Cook's Sweet Pepper Hero. Add a little whiskey, explosions, fires, and a handsome ghost, and the author distills a smooth read.

J.J. Cook's website is

Sweet Pepper Hero by J.J. Cook. Berkley Prime Crime. 2016. ISBN 9780425279236 (paperback), 294p.

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

Saturday, January 09, 2016

A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry D. Sweazy

Larry D. Sweazy's See Also Murder was one of my favorite books of 2015. Now, he returns with a story that's even grittier, an atmospheric, richly detailed book out of the violent Depression years. A Thousand Falling Crows features lonely, lost people, in a time of desperation.

It's a dry summer, one of many to come in North Texas, when Texas Ranger Sonny Burton encounters Bonnie and Clyde in his territory in June, 1933. He's sixty-two, still vigorous and in the prime of his life, but he loses a shoot-out with the criminals. Bonnie Parker shoots him, and he loses the use of his arm, and loses his career. And, nine months later, after his arm is amputated, he's suffering from "the thousand-yard stare" that fellow soldiers brought back from the Great War. He's on the verge of ending it all. But, just as that day changed his life, another encounter with robbers changes it again.

Sonny drives his truck for the first time since losing his arm, and he's in a sad little grocery store when two desperate young men show up with guns. Sonny can't prevent the violence, and it''s only made worse when his son, following in family footsteps as a Texas Ranger, shows up. Sonny and Jesse never did understand each other, and Sonny's presence at that crime scene, and later crime scenes, only riles Jesse more.

The 1930s was a violent time as desperate people robbed and killed for money. But, in North Texas, there's another killer, one who kills young women, brutalizes them, and dumps them on the side of the roads. While Sonny helps a father look for his daughter who might be mixed up with the grocery store robbers, local lawmen try to find the killer who seems to easily pluck his victims. And, the only witnesses are the observant crows, waiting for the blood they know a killer will leave behind.

A Thousand Falling Crows is gritty with violence and the dusty atmosphere of North Texas.There's a strong sense of place, Texas after the end of Prohibition, but deep into the Great Depression, as people struggled to keep their homes, struggled to stay alive. It's a story of flawed, lonely, lost people, even some of the lawmen, even Sonny Burton. And, Sweazy's use of the crows as blood-thirsty watchers only adds to the menacing, moody tone of the book.

Don't hesitate to give this to a reader who likes westerns or engrossing crime novels with flawed heroes. It's been ten years since I read Bob Fate's first violent story of west Texas and Oklahoma, Baby Shark. Although it was set in 1952, it had the same grim atmosphere as A Thousand Falling Crows. And, I can't give Larry D. Sweazy's latest book a greater compliment than to say it brings back memories of Bob Fate's gritty stories. Sweazy's book is just as violent and fast-paced, just as gripping. A Thousand Falling Crows is a richly detailed, engrossing story.

Larry D. Sweazy's website is

A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry D. Sweazy. Seventh Street Books. 2016. 9781633880849 (paperback), 250p.

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

Friday, January 08, 2016

Anne Cleeland's Acton & Doyle Giveaway

As promised, I have a terrific giveaway to kick off 2016. Anne Cleeland has offered to give away one set of her New Scotland Yard mysteries featuring Kathleen Doyle and Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair, Lord Acton. She's a rookie, a Constable, and he's "the brilliant but enigmatic lord with a knack for solving London's most high profile homicides". And, Doyle becomes Acton's secret weapon in more ways than one. She's a human lie detector who can tell if people are telling the truth or not.

I hope the winner loves these books as much as I do. Go back and read my reviews of Murder in Thrall, Murder in Retribution, and Murder in Hindsight. These are contemporary mysteries involving a small team at Scotland Yard. However, these are mysteries for those of us who appreciate unusual characters. Neither Doyle or Acton are what you would expect from a police officer. Doyle, a Catholic, is very old-fashioned in her beliefs about justice. Acton sometimes takes action to ensure that justice will triumph.

As I said in my first review, Acton is obsessed with Doyle. These are all sexy books, so don't expect a cozy mystery, or even a traditional police procedural. Anne Cleeland's stories and characters are unique.

I love these books. In fact, I read Murder in Thrall twice. One friend loved them as well. One reader didn't understand them. And, I had another reader write me and thank me for introducing them to her. She's captivated, too.

And, if you'd like to read a snippet to get a flavor of the books, check out Cleeland's website at, where you can read "Christmas with Acton & Doyle". She also has a historical novel on the site, "The Bengal Bridegift".

Are you ready to enter the giveaway? If you would like to win all three books, email me at Your subject heading should read "Win Acton & Doyle." Please include your name and mailing address. The contest will end Thursday, Jan. 14 at 6 PM CT. I'll pass the winner's information on to Anne Cleeland so she can send the books. Entries from the U.S. only, please. Good luck!

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Happy Anniversary

Missed it! Well, that might be the first time ever that I missed the anniversary. Well, I didn't really miss it. I realized at 10:00 PM that it was Jan. 6. Eleven years ago I wrote the first post for the blog that would eventually become Lesa's Book Critiques.

Since I missed the date, I just want to say thank you for allowing me a few minutes of your time every day to talk about books. If you've been reading my blog for most of those eleven years, thank you. And, if you just discovered my blog in the last couple days, couple weeks, or months, thank you.

I hope you always come back to check to see what book I'm talking about, or what books others are reading. If today's book doesn't interest you, maybe tomorrow's will.

Thank you for reading with me!

Born in Ice by Nora Roberts

Is there anything quite as satisfying as a book in a Nora Roberts trilogy? As much as I love mysteries, there's just something about her characters and her descriptions of their lives, their homes, and, in the case of the Irish Born books, the descriptions of Irish life. Born in Ice is rich in the details of Ireland, but it's her characters that come to life.

Brianna Concannon is the younger sister of Maggie from Born in Fire. While Maggie adored their father, she knew her mother always disliked and resented her. Brianna was always the obedient, gentle daughter, the home loving one. But, when their father died, and left the house to Brianna instead of to their mother, her mother turned on her as well. However, Brianna had the opportunity to build the life she always wanted, building a home for travelers in the bed-and-breakfast she calls Blackthorn Cottage.

Grayson Thane only wanted a quiet spot for six months or so, a base for roaming as he wrote his latest bestselling thriller, this one set in Ireland. Gray is a man who lives for the present. He has no roots, no place to call home, and he likes it that way. He has no responsibilities, and, once a book is written, he moves on. He has "No ties, no strings, no guilts".

An unlikely couple? An innkeeper who is most content at home, and a man who has never known that comfort. Nora Roberts manages to convince readers that her characters belong together, no matter how unlikely that seems at first glance. As I've said before, she creates strong, independent women who are also capable of great love. The characters always work, lighting up the page with their romance.

A gorgeous, sometimes wild, countryside. A comfortable local pub. An inviting bed-and-breakfast. Add in an attractive couple, a hint of suspense, some sensual scenes, and it's a welcome escape. Born in Ice is as satisfying as the other books in Nora Roberts' trilogies.

Nora Roberts' website is

Born in Ice by Nora Roberts. Berkley Books. ISBN 9780425266109 (paperback), 386p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I own this book.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Murder in Hindsight by Anne Cleeland

When I told Kaye Wilkinson Barley that I had just finished Anne Cleeland's Murder in Hindsight, I said, "sigh", and she agreed. I've finished all three of the novels about Doyle and Acton, and it's going to be hard to let the characters go.

Make no mistake about it. The three books in the series so far, Murder in Thrall, Murder in Retribution, and Murder in Hindsight, really can be read together. And, they definitely need to be read in order. They are so much more than a continuing story of crime investigations. In fact, Murder in Hindsight beautifully wrapped up the storyline about the turf wars between the Russians and the Irish. But, it's hard to wrap up the story of a marriage. In the latest book, Cleeland let readers have a peek inside Lord Acton's estate.

Doyle has already faced down Acton's mother. Now, she accompanies him to Trestles, the family estate. Despite the fact they're both playing roles while they're at the manor, Doyle discovers that Acton has a deep love for his home. But, there are still secrets about the background of her ever-mysterious husband.

One storyline involves recent murders in a park. Because Doyle has been digging through cold case files, she senses a connection to the past with the current murders. If she can figure out that connection, she may be able to find a killer.

There's not a lot I can reveal about the plot without spoiling the three books. Doyle, who is a human lie detector, can tell when people are lying. However, she still comes across as young and naive at times. And, it may be that innocence, her dependence on her deep Catholic faith, that creates an atmosphere of the past in these stories. Although these are mysteries involving New Scotland Yard, mysteries with cell phones and CCTV cameras, Acton's lifestyle with servants, the estate, and Doyle's innocence seem to set the stories in a different century.

Anne Cleeland's books are for those of us who devour books with fascinating characters. Doyle and Acton are unique, and the story of their developing, relationship is compelling. I already regret that I have to leave the couple behind.

(But, some lucky reader will have the chance to discover Action and Doyle.) Anne Cleeland will be giving away copies of all three books in the first giveaway of the year. Come back on Friday for details.)

Anne Cleeland's website is

Murder in Hindsight by Anne Cleeland. Kensington Books. 2015. ISBN 9780758287960 (hardcover), 327p.

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

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

What Are You Reading?

Do you ever read a book and get to a chapter when you know something horrific is going to happen, and put it down, saying, I can't read that right now? Sometimes, it happens when I'm reading the book at work, and think, I don't think I should read that right now on my lunch hour. It's OK. I'm actually reading five different books, and I'll have a review tomorrow, but I wasn't quite ready to review one today.

So, instead of my review, what are you reading? What book grabbed your attention for the start of the new year? I'm liking all the books I'm reading, but I'm not at that point in any of them where I can't put it down. That's when I race to the end.

Let's talk about what you're reading.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Born in Fire by Nora Roberts

The last time I read one of Nora Roberts' trilogies, I went back and picked up an earlier one set in Ireland. Born in Fire is the first in the Irish Born Trilogy. This one brings the Irish lilt and magic to life.

Margaret Mary Concannon is a glass artist who sells her glass under the name M.M. Concannon from  her small shop in County Clare. Her father, Tom, sent her to Venice to learn, despite the angry opposition of her mother. Maggie returned and built her own studio, and she's determined to pay back every penny so her mother can no longer gripe and moan about it. It's that determination that forces her to strike a bargain with Rogan Sweeney.

Five years after her father's death, Sweeney, owner of Worldwide Galleries, tracks Maggie down. He's equally determined. He wants Maggie's work exclusively for his gallery because he has a dream of showcasing Irish artists. He wants to make Maggie into Worldwide's first native Irish star. But, the two have a volatile relationship from the very beginning. She's angry she has to work for money instead of love. But, she's also determined to make money to buy her mother a house so she'll leave Maggie's younger sister, Brianna, to run her dreamed of bed-and-breakfast without the constant demands on Brianna's time. And, no matter what Maggie does, she knows she'll never change her mother, a bitter woman who was stuck in a loveless marriage. It's that bitterness and sad marriage that makes Maggie fight Rogan every step of the way in their evolving relationship.

As always, Nora Roberts creates unusual, strong characters. Her female characters are always independent and beautiful. Her male ones are always strong and handsome. A little bit unrealistic? Yes, but it's the individuality of their characters, and the independence that always stands out in these books. And, in the Irish Born series, there's an additional attraction. Ireland is depicted as beautiful in all varieties of weather, the sun and storms. The B&B, the pubs, the music, the landscape, all come to life with Roberts' careful words. Born in Fire is a delightful book of art and passion and Ireland.

Nora Roberts' website is

Born in Fire by Nora Roberts. Berkley Books. 9780425266090 (paperback), 337p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy of this book.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

...and His Lovely Wife by Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz' memoir, a book that came out in 2007, wrapped up 2015 perfectly for me. ...and His Lovely Wife is the story of the journalist's year on the campaign trail, the year she gave up her career to support and campaign for her new husband, Sherrod Brown, while he ran for Senator from Ohio.

Schultz is an outspoken supporter of the working class, so her late-in-life marriage to the congressman from Ohio, Sherrod Brown, united two campaigners. But, only a short time into their marriage, the Democrats urged Brown to run for the Senate seat held by Republican Mike DeWine. And, Schultz was the last one to agree, knowing it would change their lives, change her career, forever. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist had the feeling she would have to put her career on hold in order to travel throughout the state of Oho.

...and His Lovely Wife is a tribute to two hardworking supporters of the working class, who took a year out of their lives to hit the campaign trail, hoping they could make a difference in the lives of the middle class. Connie Schultz tells the story of that year with humor and love, but she isn't afraid to point out the problems on the campaign trail, along with her fears, and Sherrod Brown's fears that he would let down the people who were supporting him. It's a fascinating look inside a campaign, written only as a journalist and wife could write it.

Connie Schultz' account is a refreshing, positive story following a political year that has been difficult to watch. And, 2016 will probably be just as bad. ...and His Lovely Wife, with its humor, love, and passion for the ordinary person, is charming and thoughtful.

Connie Schultz is a columnist at Creators Syndicate. She also has a Facebook page where she encourages civil discourse on topics of the day.

...and His Lovely Wife by Connie Schultz. Random House. 2007. ISBN 9781400065738 (hardcover), 280p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, January 02, 2016

February Treasures in My Closet - Part 2

OK, I'm revealing a secret here. When I first started Treasures in My Closet, they really were in my closet. Not anymore. Over the years, I've received more and more books. Now, they're actually on the floor in my middle room. I'm not changing the title to Treasures in My Middle Room, though. But, this is what it looks like at the moment. They had been in nice piles until I had to move all the books. Then, a few of the piles collapsed. But, I can still find the piles with forthcoming books.

So here's the second part of the February releases.

After yesterday's post, it seems appropriate to kick off today's list with another fiction debut, Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson. Reclusive literary legend Mimi Banning lost all her money in a Ponzi scheme, and is now forced to write a new book, the first in decades. Her publisher sends her an assistant who ends up as a companion to Mimi's son, Frank. He's an eccentric nine-year-old with "the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth graders". (Release date is Feb. 2.)

The Photographer's Wife by Suzanne Joinson is a novel of betrayal. In 1920s Jerusalem, eleven-year-old Prudence watches her architect father launch an ambitious plan to redesign the Holy City. He employs a British pilot, William Harrington, to take aerial photographs, and Prue soon becomes aware of the attraction between Harrington and Eleanora, the young wife of a famous photographer. Years later, Harrington visits Prue, revealing a story that unravels her world. (Release date is Feb. 2.)

Han Kang's novel, The Vegetarian, is translated from Korean. It's the story of a woman who has a dream that changes her life, and that of her husband. She renounces eating meat in a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed. Her decision is an act of subversion, that leads to scandal, abuse and estrangement. (Release date is Feb. 2.)

I don't want to reveal too much about Caroline Kepnes' Hidden Bodies because there are spoilers for people who haven't yet read her earlier novel, You. I'll just say bookstore manager Joe Goldberg is upset when his current girlfriend, Amy, disappears. Tracing her computer searches, he follows her to Hollywood, determined to make her pay for deserting him. (Release date is Feb. 23.)

Maylis de Kerangal's The Heart covers the twenty-four hours surrounding a fatal accident and the resulting heart transplant, as life is taken from a teenage boy and given to a woman close to death. (Release date is Feb. 9.)

Ausma Zehanat Khan's The Language of Secrets takes readers into the investigation of a local Muslim terrorist cell in Canada. INSET, Canada's federal intelligence agency has been investigating it for months, but one of their informants is killed at the cell's training camp. Detective Esa Khattack's police department is called to investigate the murder, and his partner, Rachel Getty, goes undercover into the ultra-conservative mosque. (Release date is Feb. 2.)

Almost Everything Very Fast is German author Christopher Kloeble's U.S. debut. Set in a small Bavarian village, it's Albert's story of a search for answers. At nineteen, he never knew his mother, and, all his life, had been a father to his father, Fred. When Fred is given only five months to live, Albert senses he may be the only one who can help him learn more about his background. Together they set out on an adventure that will take them back to the distant past, and a story of forbidden love. (Release date is Feb. 2.)

Everyone knows what happened to the Hindenburg in 1937. But, Ariel Lawhon's novel, Flight of Dreams, introduces readers to the people on board. Emilie Imhoff boards the ship as the only female crew member, with access to the entire airship. She hears everything, including the rumors. And, everyone seems to be hiding something. (Release date is Feb. 23.)

Stephen Le's 100 Million Years of Food is one of the few nonfiction titles on the February pile. Le, a biological anthropologist, explains how the foods of different regions developed through centuries, showing how our diets and lifestyles have transformed over millions of of years of history, and how we can return to a sustainable, healthier way of eating and living. (Release date is Feb. 2.)

The Quality of Silence is the latest thriller from Rosamund Lupton. It's the story of a mother and daughter's quest to uncover a dark secret in the Alaskan wilderness. Yasmin, an astrophysicist, and her precocious deaf daughter, Ruby, arrive in a remote part of Alaska to be told that Ruby's father, Matt, has been the victim of a catastrophic accident. But, they don't accept his death as the truth, and head out into the hostile winter of the Alaskan tundra to find the truth. As a storm closes in, Yasmin realizes they face another danger as well, a human one that is following. (Release date is Feb. 16.)

Yann Martel, the author of Life of Pi, brings us The High Mountains of Portugal. It's part quest, part ghost story, part contemporary fable, as it covers 100 years of searches for answers in Portugal, beginning with the discovery of an old journal in 1904. (Release date is Feb. 2.)

What Lies Between Us is Naomi Munaweera's latest novel. It begins in the idyllic hill country of Sri Lanka, where a young girl grows up with her loving family. But, terror lurks, and she and her mother are forced to immigrate to America. Love and loss fill her life, but she's haunted by the scars of the past. (Release date is Feb. 16.)

Iain Pears really does weave together three different worlds in Arcadia. How do you bring together an Oxford don who dabbles in espionage and fiction writing in 1960, the quick-witted fifteen-year-old girl who feeds his cat, a psychomathematician who lives several hundred years in the future in a dystopian island society, and a scholar's apprentice who lives somewhere, sometime? It's Pears' latest puzzle. (Release date is Feb. 9.)

Shawna Yang Ryan's Green Island sweeps across two continents and six decades, as the narrator tells the story of her family and Taiwan. That story covers Taiwan's history from the end of Japanese colonial rule to years of martial law to its transformation into a democracy. (Release date is Feb. 23.)

Try Not to Breathe is Holly Seddon's fiction debut, a thriller with twists and turns. Alex Dale's destructive habits cost her a marriage and a journalism career. Only her routine of running and forgettable work keeps her going. And, then she discovers Amy Stevenson, the survivor of a brutal attack, who has been in a coma for fifteen years. What starts as Alex' story as a reporter turns into a personal obsession. How do you solve a crime when the only witness is locked in silence? (Release date is Feb. 23.)

In her latest novel, Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys takes readers back to 1945, as thousands of refugees from East Prussia try to reach freedom. Four of them are teenagers, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff. It's a story inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, but a little-known story. (Release date is Feb. 2.)

Hannah Tennant-Moore's debut novel, Wreck and Order, is the story of a young woman who feels lost. Elsie is aimless, self-destructive, and in and out of love. She decides she needs a dramatic change in her life, and heads to Paris and Sri Lanka. Even then, she has to come face-to-face with herself. (Release date is Feb. 9.)

If you like inventive novels about time travel, you might want to try John Wray's The Lost Time Accidents. Haunted by a failed love affair and the darkest family secret, Waldemar "Waldy" Tolliver wakes one morning to discover that he's been exiled from the flow of time. The world continues to turn as Waldy tries desperately to get back. Now, he has to deal with the legacy of his great-grandfather's fatal pursuit of the hidden nature of time. (Release date is Feb. 9.)

There are a number of literary novels here, a number of debuts. Where are the mysteries? The cozy ones won't arrive until mid-January. I guess that leaves novels about the mysteries of life. I have to be honest and say some of these won't even make my "hope to read" calendar. But, there certainly are books for every taste in the two days of Treasures in My Closet. Is there a book or two that excites you?