Thursday, June 30, 2016

First Half Favorites for 2016

My lists of favorite books never have anything to do with anyone else's "Best of" lists. They always represent my favorites of the books I've read, not the "Best" books published during a year. And, anyone who follows my blog knows I read popular books, seldom anything that someone would call literary. They're what I like to read, and, most of the time, I read for entertainment.

2016 is half over. Hard to believe, isn't it? So, as in previous years, I've picked my favorite ten books. By the end of the year, some of these books will still be on the list, and others will have been knocked off by something I loved in the second half of the year. Louise Penny's new book doesn't come out until August, for instance. And, I have a debut novel to review for a journal, a book that looks promising. I never know what a debut will bring, and I'm always hopeful. Here's my top 10, in no particular order. What are your favorite books of 2016?

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald brings a book lover from Sweden to Broken Wheel, Iowa to meet her pen pal, only to find she's died. It's the story of one woman's love of books, and how a town and a stranger change each other.

The View from the Cheap Seats is Neil Gaiman's collection of essays, covering everything from books and libraries to comics, graphic novels, music, and advice for artists. Wise. It's a beautifully written collection.

Glen Erik Hamilton's Past Crimes came out in 2015, but I only discovered it this year. The debut novel introduces Van Shaw, an Army Ranger who was raised by his grandfather to be a thief. After ten years of silence between the two, Van's grandfather asks him to come home to Seattle. It's there that Van finds his grandfather bleeding on the floor. Knowing he'll be a likely suspect, he turns to some unlikely friends for help.

In Rita Sepetys' Salt to the Sea, she focuses on a little-known tragedy as she tells the story of refugees fleeing from Prussia in the last days of World War II. Sepetys creates a small group of characters to tell the brutal, riveting story of young people fighting for survival as they try to reach safety.

The next title is one that is on my list, and, undoubtedly, few others, unless you're a fan of basketball in North Carolina. John Feinstein's The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry is the story of the years when leading up to the time these three men and their schools exemplified college rivalries. It also covers the years since the deaths of Valvano and Smith.

In Delivering the Truth, Edith Maxwell introduces Quaker midwife Rose Carroll in Massachusetts in 1888. A midwife, privy to the secrets of women of all classes, is the perfect amateur sleuth when a suspicious fire and murders occur. With its historic details, it's an excellent launch for a new series.

In Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen, Mary Margaret Miller tells the story of the town and the family farm she loved for entire life. She's an unforgettable narrator as she tells of past family stories, uncovers secrets, and looks back at the valley she always loved, after it disappears.

I love Charlaine Harris' stories set in the unusual town of Midnight, Texas. Night Shift is the third in the series, a series hard to explain if you haven't read the books. The town residents are unusual, and to reveal the true nature of several of them is to spoil previous books if you haven't read them. But, it's obvious in early books that a young psychic, a vampire, a pawnshop owner, and a witch and her cat are involved in the complicated stories in which they try to hide the secrets of their town from the rest of the world. In Night Shift, people are suddenly drawn to Midnight, where they commit suicide.  The residents must come together to save the town, and the world.

What can be any better than one of Craig Johnson's novellas featuring Sheriff Longmire and Henry Standing Bear?  In The Highwayman, the two travel to Wind River Canyon where a state trooper claims she's receiving calls from a heroic trooper who was killed in the canyon years earlier. It's a wonderful ghost story from a master of the novella.

Nora Roberts' Guardians Trilogy brings together a team of three men and three women on a quest to rescue three stars created by the goddesses of the moon. Their task? Keep those stars from falling into the hands of a goddess of darkness. In Bay of Sighs, the second book, the team search for the Star of Water, with the focus on a traveler through time and space and a mermaid. Hard to believe Roberts' makes romance readers believe in these stories, isn't it? I'm a big fan of her trilogies, and this is another appealing one.

A ghost story, a romantic quest, an urban fantasy, a couple mysteries, a couple nonfiction books. My selections for the first half of 2016 are a mixed bag. I hope you've enjoyed your 2016 reading as much as I have. Do you have favorites this year?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Winners and Deadly Women

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. War Hawk will go to Lynn L. from Rio Linda, CA. Allison Brennan's Poisonous will go to Lisa W. from Rochester, IN. I'll send the books tomorrow.

Deadly women characters or deadly women authors? Sophie Hannah's A Game for All the Family has
an unusual storyline. After leaving the city, leaving your career, the entire family moves to the coast. It's a fresh start, but soon after, your daughter starts to withdraw because her best friend, George, has been unfairly expelled from school. But, when you talk to the principal, there is no George. And, then anonymous phone calls start. A caller claims you share a traumatic past and a guilty secret. And, then the caller threatens your life.

Suburban mom Maeve Conlon returns in Maggie Barbieri's dark mystery, Lie in Plain Sight. When a local high school girl goes missing, Maeve feels responsible. She gave the school permission to send the girl home because Taylor is her employee's daughter. But, Taylor vanishes, somewhere between school and home. Now, Maeve takes matters into her own hands.

So, games or lies? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win A Game" or "Win A Lie." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. This week's contest was short, but the current one will end on the normal day, Thursday, July 7 at 6 PM CT.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan

Elizabeth Haberlin is one of the most refreshing characters I've read about in a novel in quite some time. She's a strong-willed, determined young woman who brings Mary Hogan's entire novel, The Woman in the Photo, into focus. And, her story brings The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, to life.

Hogan's novel is the parallel story of two young women, both on the verge of adulthood. In May of 1889, Elizabeth Haberlin is the trying daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Stafford Haberlin. Elizabeth's father is the doctor to the elite of Pittsburgh, the Fricks, Andrew Carnegie, the Mellons. When they move from Pittsburgh to their summer "camp", The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club above Johnstown, the Haberlins move with them. But, the year Elizabeth is to make her debut, she, her mother, and brother arrive a little early. There's a British family arriving, and all of the elite are hoping to make a connection.

In present-day California, Lee Parker and her mother are living in the pool house at the estate where her mother works as a maid. All of Lee's dreams of college at Columbia disappeared when her father lost her funds to Wall Street, and then he himself disappeared. But, she does have one bright spot in her life. She's turning eighteen, and, although she was adopted in a closed adoption, there is a document she can see for health reasons. The paper isn't as exciting as the photo she's not supposed to see, that of a tall, dark-haired woman who resembles Lee, standing beside Clara Barton.

While Elizabeth's story is told in first person, as she lives it, a wealthy young woman whose summer home is above the dam at Johnstown, Lee's is told in third person. Somehow, it works. It's Elizabeth's story that is the powerful link to Lee's own life and history. And, it's Elizabeth, a witness to the Johnstown Flood, who is the vital linchpin. Lee's research; her search for answers, will lead her to Elizabeth Haberlin.

The Woman in the Photo is a gripping story. Hogan's storyline might sound as if it's the story of two young women searching for a purpose in life. It's so much more, including the story of Clara Barton, and her own search for a purpose. Hogan successfully links all those women in an absorbing novel.

Mary Hogan's website is

The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan. William Morrow. 2016. ISBN 9780062386939 (paperback), 432p.

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

July's Cozy Mystery Book Chat

I'm sorry if this video is a little dark. Sometimes, I just can't get the lighting right, depending on the time of day, and the weather. One light makes the book covers look washed out. Without light, a little dark. But, Jinx is present through most of the book chat, so most of you will enjoy that part!

Here are the books featured in this month's chat, cozy mysteries from Penguin Random House's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian.

A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell (8th Witchcraft Mystery)
A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley (1st Writer's Apprentice Mystery)
Gone with the Wool by Betty Hechtman (4th Yarn Retreat Mystery)
Grace Sees Red by Julie Hyzy (7th Manor House Mystery)
Read to Death by Terrie Farley Moran (3rd Read 'Em and Eat Mystery)
Take the Monkey and Run by Laura Morrigan (4th Call of the Wilde Mystery)
Dressed to Kilt by Hannah Reed (3rd Scottish Highlands Mystery)
Toasting Up Trouble by Linda Wiken (1st Dinner Club Mystery)

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Books of a Feather by Kate Carlisle

I'm not sure which is my favorite Bibliophile mystery, but it just might be Books of a Feather by Kate Carlisle. Maybe it was the combination of all the bird books and an Audubon exhibit, along with Brooklyn Wainwright's happiness. Whatever it is, I really enjoyed this book. (And, Dan Craig's cover is gorgeous.)

Brooklyn Wainwright is a bookbinder specializing in rare-book restoration, but she's also an artist who creates books, and an expert in the field. All of those traits come into play in the latest mystery that follows several storylines. She's helping her friend Genevieve Taylor of Taylor's Fine Books inventory the collection there. There have been recent thefts of rare items, and Genevieve worries that they might be tracked back to her cousin.

Brooklyn and her fiancee, Derek Stone, a security consultant with his own international company, have just moved back into their renovated apartment. It's there they entertain one of Derek's lifelong friends, Crane, a businessman from China. When Brooklyn and Derek invite him to attend an event at the Covington Library, the opening of an Audubon exhibit featuring Audubon's Birds of America, Crane tells them an unusual story of an ancestor, an artist, who worked for Audubon. It's at that event that Brooklyn receives two small books to restore. But, she also stumbles across the body of one of the people who gave her a book. Once again, Brooklyn and her books are at the center of a murder investigation.

In the midst of all this, Brooklyn's parents are the first guests in the newly expanded apartment. But, only her parents would bring home a guest from a Grateful Dead appreciation concert, a man they barely know. Although Derek and Brooklyn are always tolerant of her parents' kind gestures, this one seems a little unusual. And, it proves to be even more unusual in the light of day.

Kate Carlisle's books are always filled with unusual facts about books, history and book repair. But, it's the interesting characters that draw me back time and again. Is there anyone more delightful than Brooklyn's mother with her cleansing ceremonies? (At least she's delightful unless you're her daughter participating in them.) Brooklyn continues to stumble across dead bodies, but she's learned to accept it as her role in life. "Somehow I'd been chosen to speak for the dead. To find justice and closure for their families." And, the series is filled with handsome men and good-looking, independent women.

Books of a Feather, with its copies of unusual, rare books is another treat. In fact, despite the murders, Brooklyn Wainwright's world sort of reminds me of Lake Wobegon, "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." It's a pleasant place to dwell in for a day or two. But, be forewarned. Carlisle leaves a hint of future trouble.

Kate Carlisle's website is You might also be interested in a recent interview I did with Kate for The Poisoned Pen Bookstore's blog. It's at

Books of a Feather by Kate Carlisle. Obsidian. 2016. ISBN 9780451477705 (hardcover), 309p.

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

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Good Month for Murder by Del Quentin Wilber

Sometimes narrative nonfiction can be as compelling as a good novel. Del Quentin Wilber's book, A Good Month for Murder, is an excellent example. The award-winning reporter spent months with the Prince George's County, Maryland, Homicide Squad, and then distilled his research into a book that covers February, 2013, one month that exemplifies the inside workings of a dedicated, dogged team of detectives.

Twenty-five detectives and five sergeants make up the PG Homicide Unit, a group expected to investigate crimes in the county east of the capital. It's a county of almost 900,000 residents, a diverse population that's spread over 485 square miles. And, the unit members work long shifts, sometimes 48 hours straight, to try to solve homicides. Wilber refers to it as "homicide, policing's most dynamic and intellectually challenging assignment."

It was Lieutenant Billy Rayle who supplied the title for the book. After a quiet December, 2012, he predicted January would get busier. "But February - watch out. Be ready for February. It will be a good month for murder." And, he was right. PG County's Homicide Squad had to deal with twelve killings in twenty-eight days, a daunting job. Why is Wilber's book so compelling? He introduces readers to the men and women of the Homicide Squad, their quarks and eccentricities, providing short sketches to show how they arrived in Homicide. He introduces murder victims, as seen through the eyes of the investigating detectives.  He shows how cop humor sometimes gets them through the long hours and frustrations. And, he takes readers into the hours of legwork, paperwork, questioning of witnesses and suspects. Sometimes the detectives find the killers. Sometimes, the cases drag on for years, while the detectives are still determined to find answers.

Wilber's book left me wanting more. I wanted to know more than he gave us in the epilogue. Where are those detectives now? The author did mention some that had retired at the time he wrote the book.  But, he makes us care about the members of that Homicide Squad. And, he makes us care about the men and women who give up family life, sleep, health, in order to solve homicides. A Good Month for Murder is the story of people who dedicated their lives and careers to putting killers in prison while finding answers for grieving family members.

A Good Month for Murder: The Inside Story of a Homicide Squad by Del Quentin Wilber. Henry Holt and Company. 2016. ISBN 9780805098822 (hardcover), 273p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, June 24, 2016

Give Me a B Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the copies of Laura Bradford's Eclair and Present Danger. The books will go to Dianne C. from Elk Grove Village, IL and Sally S. of Antioch, CA.

This week, it's a give me a B giveaway, featuring authors whose last names begin with B. The first novel is Allison Brennan's Poisonous. Investigative reporter Maxine Revere takes on an unusual case. When teenage bully Ivy Lake fell off a cliff, only her mentally challenged eighteen-year-old stepbrother, Tommy, cares. When a police investigation turns cold after a year, Tommy writes to Max asking for help. If Ivy was killed, it was a well-planned death. And, Max is afraid the truth may lead to another death.

Grant Blackwood is James Rollins' co-author for War Hawk, a Tucker Wayne novel. Wayne's former army colleague Jane Sabatello comes to him for help. She's on the run from assassins hunting her and her son. To keep her safe, Wayne investigates the death of a mutual friend, and the answers lead back to powerful figures in the government. Tucker Wayne and his war dog, Kane, must uncover secrets that go back to World War II and a young codebreaker, Alan Turing.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Poisonous" or "Win War Hawk." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Important note: Because of my schedule next week, this giveaway will be short, ending Tuesday, June 28 at 6 PM CT. I'll put the books in the mail on Wednesday.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Television's Female Spies and Crimefighters by Karen A. Romanko

I love a good reference book that deals with the field of crime fiction. Former librarian (Her bio says that. I think once a librarian, always a librarian.) Karen A. Romanko's book covers 600 Characters and shows from the 1950s through August 2014.Television's Female Spies and Crimefighters is a fascinating book that will remind readers of shows they enjoyed, characters they liked, and introduce them to a number of shows they may never have seen. Best of all, it's an excellent reference book.

The book "covers television series which feature female spies, private investigators, amateur sleuths, police detectives, federal agents and crime-fighting superheroes as lead or noteworthy characters". The women discussed did not always have the lead, but they had vital roles in the shows. The author indexes the book by series title and by the character's name. A reader can search for "Fletcher, Jessica", and that entry will be cross-indexed to Murder, She Wrote. There's also an appendix that lists  what the author considers the most rewatchable series available on DVD.

Romanko's book is an excellent summary of the history of females in crime shows on television in the U.S. This comprehensive book covers 350 female roles in more than 250 television series. It's an excellent reference book. But, it's also nostalgic for those of us who remember many of those shows, but don't think of them often. I'm showing my age when I say I remember Peggy Lipton as Julie in The Mod Squad. Of course I remember Peggy in Mannix. The book also discusses the groundbreaking Cagney & Lacey. I was a little too young for Honey West. But, Rizzoli & Isles and Emma Peel are there.

If you're a fan of crime shows, interested in the history of women in that area, or in the history of crime shows in general,  you might want to look for Karen A. Romanko's Television's Female Spies and Crimefighters.

Television's Female Spies and Crimefighters: 600 Characters and Shows, 1950s to the Present by Karen A. Romanko. McFarland & Company, Inc. 2016. ISBN 9780786496372 (paperback), 256p.

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

It seems as if I've been talking about and anticipating Vinegar Girl for months now. The Hogarth Shakespeare project has today's bestselling novelists writing modern retellings of Shakespeare's works. Anne Tyler took on one of my favorite plays,The Taming of the Shrew, and set it in contemporary Baltimore. Maybe I expected too much. It was a nice story. But, Kate didn't live up to my expectations, and, she certainly wasn't a shrew.

Kate Battista was kicked out of college her sophomore year for loudly disagreeing with a professor. Now, ten years later, she's still living at home with her absent-minded scientist father who is working in autoimmunity in a small, forgotten lab near the Johns Hopkins campus. She takes care of the household and her fifteen-year-old sister, Bunny. She is also on permanent probation at the preschool where she's a teacher's assistant, "an extra tall, more obstreperous four-year-old". Then, after a great deal of awkward ingratiation, her father reveals he wants her to marry his lab assistant. Pyotr Cherbakov. Pyotr's three-year visa is about to expire, and, in her father's eyes, it's vitally important that his lab assistant stay in the country. So, what's wrong with his oldest daughter getting married to his lab assistant?

Actually, I felt sorry for Kate throughout most of the book. Not only is she not a shrew, but everyone walks all over her. She's not assertive until the very end of the book. She saw herself a little differently. "She had always been such a handful - a thorny child, a sullen teenager, a failure as a college student. What was to be done with her? But now they had the answer: marry her off." Pyotr certainly isn't the overbearing Petruchio. And, even Bunny has a moment when she tries to stop Kate from going on with the farce of a marriage. "...I do think it would be nice if I could have a bigger room, but if the price for that is my only sister getting totally tamed and tamped down and changed into some whole other person-".

Vinegar Girl is a nice book. And, everything turns out nice. Unfortunately, I wanted so much more than nice. I wanted the drama and sexiness and banter and everything I love about The Taming of the Shrew. Let's face it, though. Who can really compete with Shakespeare? Vinegar Girl is a nice story.

(Here's a link to an interview with Anne Tyler about Vinegar Girl. It's from The Washington Post )

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. Hogarth Shakespeare. 2016. ISBN 9780804141260 (hardcover), 235p.

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick

I don't know when a nonfiction book has hit so close to home for me. Perhaps it's because I'm a "Mover", one of those people who pack up and move for one reason or another. For me, it has been jobs - in Upper Arlington, Ohio; Huron, Ohio; Port Charlotte, Florida; Lee County, Florida; Glendale, Arizona; Evansville, Indiana. While journalist Melody Warnick had to learn to love Blacksburg, Virginia, I never had a problem falling in love with Arizona. Three and a half years after leaving, I still miss Arizona. Warnick's investigation, her determined "Love Where You Live" experiment, is fascinating in This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live.

Melody Warnick and her family were eager to move to Blacksburg from Austin, Texas, when her husband, an English professor, landed a job at Virginia Tech. Warnick had just turned thirty-six, and the family's average stay in any city was 3.2 years. But, she wasn't immediately drawn to Blacksburg in the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a journalist, she decided to examine the idea of making a city into a place to love. "What if a place becomes the right place only by our choosing to love it?" She made a conscious effort to love Blacksburg, Virginia.

Because she's a journalist, Warnick set about methodically learning to love Blacksburg. She interviewed people, studied why people gravitate to one place or another, how they become involved in a city, what connects them to other people there. Walking the city, learning to find your way around it is an important step, and walkable cities are inviting to outsiders. She has a chapter about buying local, supporting local stores that make the community different from other cities. Meet your neighbors. Learn what is fun to do in your city. Get out into nature. Volunteer in order to feel as if you are helping your community. Eat local food. Get involved in local politics. Create something. The "Stay Loyal" chapter was fascinating, focusing on people who suffered through tragedies in their cities. As Melody Warnick worked through her experiment,  she found herself more attached to Blacksburg.

This Is Where You Belong is a fascinating book. And, maybe I found it so fascinating because it explained a great deal about my own passion for Arizona. That was the one place I lived as an adult that I took most of the steps Warnick mentions, although I'd consider "home" the Phoenix area, not just Glendale. I walked, supported local businesses, volunteered, did so much that was fun, and even found my third place there. Warnick and others refer to it as "place attachment".

It would be interesting to see if Warnick's process works for people, if they can force a place to feel like home. As I said, This Is Where You Belong is a fascinating book. I just don't know when/if I'll find that place again for myself, and, honestly, I'm not willing, right now, to put that kind of effort into it.

Melody Warnick's website is

This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick. Viking. 2016. ISBN 9780525429128 (hardcover), 298p.

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

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mystic Summer by Hannah McKinnon

Are you familiar with the term "new adults"? It refers to twenty-somethings, on their own, making major life decisions. Hannah McKinnon's Mystic Summer is definitely for that audience.

Maggie Griffin is perfectly happy with her life in Boston. She teaches at a private day school, and she has a handsome actor boyfriend, Evan. She's a little uneasy with the wedding preparations for her best friend, Erika, though. When Erika marries, everything will change. Her friends will be married, buying houses, planning families, while Maggie hasn't moved into the next stage of her relationship or life.

And, then everything seems to fall apart at once. Maggie will probably be let go from her job as they downsize. Evan never seems to have time for the two of them, and he's paired with a gorgeous model on the TV show. And, Erika's dream wedding is threatened when her reception location cancels. It's only when Maggie suggests that they move the wedding home to Mystic, Connecticut that there's a brighter future. At least it seems brighter for everyone except Maggie. Once she's home, she runs into her high school sweetheart. Cameron has moved home, opened a business, and he's raising his baby by himself. Suddenly, Maggie's picture-perfect dreams of life in Boston don't seem so perfect.

As I said, Mystic Summer is a book designed with new adults in mind. Because I received the book to review for a journal, I finished it. But, in my stage of life, I wasn't particularly excited by the confusion and decisions young people in their twenties have to make. But, stories of first true love, weddings and babies should appeal to that younger audience.

Hannah McKinnon's website is

Mystic Summer by Hannah McKinnon. Atria. 2016. ISBN 9781476777696 (paperback), 287p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book from a journal in order to review it.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Bay of Sighs by Nora Roberts

A Sorcerer, a traveler through space and time, an immortal, a mermaid, a seer, and a lycan (a werewolf). If I added, all walk into a room, it would sound like a joke. Instead, it's the team that comes together to defeat the darkness and find three stars in Nora Roberts' The Guardians Trilogy. In the second book, Bay of Sighs, the focus is on the traveler and the mermaid. And, Roberts manages, once again, to make it so believable.

As background, three moon goddesses, guardians of the world, once created three stars to honor a new queen. Then, they hid those stars from Nerezza, the mother of lies, who cursed the stars to fall from the sky. Centuries later, six heroes come together to find the stars, but they must battle Nerezza and her forces of darkness. The new guardians must risk everything to keep the stars from Nerezza.

Roberts sets this second book on the island of Capri, where the heroes must find the Water Star. After finding the first star, the six have finally formed a team, knowing it's only together that they can defeat Nerezza. And, Nerezza herself, once defeated in losing that first star, is building her own team. She finds Andre Malmon who once tried to kill Sawyer King, the traveler, in order to gain the compass that enables him to shift through time and space. Andre is wealthy, bored, and kills for excitement. And, he's crazy enough to cast his fate with the goddess of darkness for excitement and revenge.

I'm a fan of Nora Roberts' trilogies. I like to see the changes in relationships, the pairing up of couples who are fated to be together. And, in the case of this series, with its focus on magick, good vs. evil, the couples really are meant to be together. But, I also like to see the friendships that build between the characters in her series.

Bay of Sighs is as intriguing and action-packed as the previous book in the series, Stars of Fortune. Fans of romance and adventure can't go wrong with Nora Roberts. Unfortunately, it's a long time until December and the culmination of the series when the action moves to Ireland in Island of Glass. But Roberts' books are always worth waiting for.

Nora Roberts' website is

Bay of Sighs by Nora Roberts. Berkley Books. 2016. ISBN 9780425280119 (paperback), 338p.

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

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Written Off by E.J. Copperman

How many of you are old enough to remember Remington Steele? The Remington Steele Detective Agency was actually owned by a woman, but, because the TV show started in 1982, she needed a man's name, and a man as a frontman. She ended up working with a man who pretended to be Remington Steele. E.J. Copperman's new mystery,Written Off, reminds me of the premise of Remington Steele. It's the first in the new Mysterious Detective series, featuring a mysterious man.

Rachel Goldman is an author who has just completed the fifth in her Duffy Madison mystery series. Madison is a consultant to a New Jersey county prosecutor's office. But, she doesn't find it very funny when she gets a phone call from a man claiming to be Duffy Madison, saying he needs her help. And, she knows he's a nutcase when he shows up at her book signing, identifies himself as Duffy Madison, and says he believes she made him up. He has no memory going any further back than four years, at the time she started her series. He is a consultant (to a different county), and he needs her help to find a missing woman.

It seems a mystery author is missing, and she's not the first female mystery writer to disappear. But, the others ended up dead. Duffy (whoever he is) believes Rachel holds the key to finding the missing woman before she too ends up murdered. And, when Rachel receives a threatening message, she worries she's next. But, can she really trust a man who may or may not be Duffy Madison? And, where did he really come from? Worst of all, what mystery writer wants to hear that her character, or a man claiming to be him, never heard of her books?

If Duffy Madison comes across as a little stiff and pedantic, it's because Rachel Goldman wrote him that way. Written Off is a fun mystery precisely because Rachel doesn't know what's actually happening. Because she doesn't know who to trust, she uses her own skills as a mystery writer, and the research skills of her assistant, to dig for answers. No one who has read Copperman's earlier books will be surprised at the humor or the interesting characters. Rachel's relationship with her father is delightful. And, let's just say the relationship with Duffy Madison is developing.

Looking for a new mystery series, light, humorous, and intriguing? Check out E.J. Copperman's Written Off. You'll want to know more about Duffy Madison.

E.J. Copperman's website is

Written Off by E.J. Copperman. Crooked Lane. 2016. ISBN 9781629535999 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Friday, June 17, 2016

Winners and Laura Bradford Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Carol M. from Monroeville, PA won Con Lehane's Murder at the 42nd Street Library. I'm sending Elaine Viets' Checked Out to Deanna S. from Lexington, KY.

When Laura Bradford was here on release day, I bought two copies of the first book in her new series, Eclair and Present Danger, and she autographed them. Eclair and Present Danger is the first Emergency Dessert Squad mystery. When Winnie Johnson loses her bakery, she gains a cat that seems to hate her, and a vintage ambulance. But, she has a creative idea. She decides to use that ambulance to deliver desserts to needy people. Unfortunately, when she delivers a pie to a neighbor, she finds him dead. Winnie and her friends are fun, appealing characters.

Someone will get to enjoy the first book in this new cozy mystery series. Email me at Your subject heading can just read "Win Eclair". Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, June 23 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Lois Duncan, R.I.P.

It was a year ago tomorrow that I reviewed Lois Duncan's book, One to the Wolves. She sent it to me, asking if I would read and review it. It was her follow-up to Who Killed My Daughter?, the first book she wrote about her search for answers to the tragic death of her daughter. Lois Duncan died yesterday, June 15th. I hope she finds peace, and answers.

Lois Duncan's most famous books for teens came out when I was finishing high school and in college: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Killing Mr. Griffin. By the time we were hosting the Lee County Reading Festival, her daughter, Kaitlyn Arquette, had been murdered. She attended the festival, and spoke to teens about the books they loved. But, she also spoke about her search for resolution.

I actually lost track of Lois Duncan and her writing after the festival, so I was surprised when her publicist reached out and asked if Duncan could send me a copy of her book. It was an honor and privilege to be asked to read a book by an author I admired for her teen books and for her strength in a tragic situation.

I can think of no other tribute than to reprint the review of One to the Wolves, since Lois Duncan wanted it read. She read the review, and even followed up with more information.

Now, I hope Lois Duncan can rest in piece.

One to the Wolves by Lois Duncan

Basketball coach Jim Valvano is known for saying, "Don't give up. Don't ever give up." That could be author Lois Duncan's motto. One to the Wolves is her second book to recount her ongoing,
heartbreaking story to uncover the truth about her daughter's murder. Duncan is best known for her suspense novels for young adults. But none of those books had the twists and turns of the true account of her search for answers and justice.

In July 1989, Duncan's eighteen-year-old youngest daughter, Kaitlyn Arquette was killed in a "drive by shooting" in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In her first book about that tragedy, Who Killed My Daughter?, Duncan discussed the search for answers. Duncan and her husband trusted the police department to find the killer, but when the case went unsolved, she and her husband turned to investigative psychics, informants, and anyone they could find to help. Now, in her latest book, she reports everything she and her husband have done while continuing to plea for help.

Author Ann Rule wrote the introduction, saying "Mothers seeking justice for their murdered children are not a rarity." In this case, though, Lois Duncan was a successful author who set aside her career to search for answers. As she gathered statements and articles, she began to see that her daughter was targeted. Her book is a powerful account of an investigation, still unfinished, that points to wrongdoing within the Albuquerque Police Department, not only with Kait's murder, but with the deaths of numerous other young people who accidentally fell in with the wrong people. And, Duncan points to lies, cover-ups, disappearing evidence, scare tactics, threats and scandals that reach into high places in New Mexico. She and her husband were forced to move from their home, their family was scattered, and Duncan herself suffered from a stroke and seizures as a result of the ongoing investigation.

One to the Wolves is a follow-up to Who Killed My Daughter?, but it stands alone. Duncan uses newspaper articles to re-introduce the story of Kaitlyn's killing, so the reader new to the story can easily understand the background. Twenty-six years after Kaitlyn Arquette died, Lois Duncan has found a network of survivors, but also continues to build a network of people who are searching for the truth. It's a heartbreaking, frightening account of broken trust, lies, cover-ups, and murder.

Followup - Lois Duncan left a comment that her daughter's case is being investigated by the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute. The following link takes you to an interview with the founder of that institute, an interview that mentions the Arquette investigation.

Lois Duncan's website is

One to the Wolves: A Desperate Mother on the Trail of a Killer by Lois Duncan. Planet Ann Rule. 2015. ISBN 9781940018515 (paperback), 212p.

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna

I had never heard of Marita Conlon-McKenna, who is an Irish Times bestselling author. But, her book, Rebel Sisters, deals with three sisters of a large Irish family who became part of one of the tragic events of their times, the Easter Rising. And, this year is the 100th anniversary of that tragedy.

The book begins in 1901, introducing the Gifford family, a well-to-do Irish family living in Dublin where Frederick is a lawyer. He and his wife, Isabella, are the parents of twelve children, six boys and six girls. In some ways, they are progressive. "They had high expectations for the education of all their children equally." The oldest daughter, Kate, attended the University of Dublin, and was one of its first female graduates. But, the book focuses on three of the young women. Nellie, who loved cooking, training to be a "rural domestic instructress", teaching practical lessons about cooking to women throughout the country, while she observed their poverty, so different from her own life. Grace attended art school in Dublin and London, and became part of the suffragette movement. Muriel attended nursing school.

But, each of those young women disgraces themselves in the eyes of their mother, Isabella. By 1915, Nellie is part of the Citizen Army, prepared to rebel against the British crown. Muriel falls in love with a Catholic, writer and teacher Thomas MacDonagh, one of the leaders of the rebellion. And, Grace is first infuriated, and then fascinated by another leader of the Rising, Joe Plunkett.

Rebel Sisters is a novel, dealing with the details of family life and emotions. It begins in 1901, when Queen Victoria has just died, and Frederick Gifford fears for the country and the world. His feelings foreshadow World War I, and the jealousies and relationships between relatives that will tear the world apart. At the same time, he doesn't see the rebellion rising in Ireland that will tear apart the country, and his own family.  The Gifford family will be caught up in the events of Easter 1916, and the Rising. That's how Conlon-McKenna deals with the politics of the time. She tells it as a personal story of one family.

Nellie, Grace, and Muriel Gifford were actual women who fought, married rebels, became icons of  the rebellion when their husbands were executed. Rebel Sisters is not a happy story. It's a tragedy built on passion. But, it's a fascinating story of the passion that can fuel a revolution, the passion that can change the world.

Marita Conlon-McKenna's website is

Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna. Transworld Ireland. 2016. ISBN 9781848271999 (paperback), 399p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I requested a copy of the book to participate in a book tour.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Juggling Books

OK, speak up if you're one of those people who read multiple books at a time. (Jeff, I'm pointing at
you.) That's my topic for today because friends stopped by to visit last night, so I didn't finish my current book. I'm almost always reading a couple books at a time, a mystery and something else.

So, this week, I'm finishing two books. One is for a book blog tour, Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna. It's the story of the Irish Gifford sisters, and the 1916 Easter Rising. I'm also finishing Written Off, the first Mysterious Detective Mystery by E.J. Copperman. It's not difficult to read two books at a time when the topics and the writing styles are so different.

I tend to read a novel, a nonfiction book, and a mystery quite often. Do you juggle your books? What are you reading right now?

Monday, June 13, 2016

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman takes my breath away with his vision of everything, how he looks at the world. Of his collection, The View from the Cheap Seats, he says, “This book is not ‘the complete nonfiction of Neil Gaiman.’ It is, instead, a motley bunch of speeches and articles, introductions and essays. Some of them are serious and some of them are frivolous and some of them are earnest and some of them I wrote to try and make people listen.” There are more than sixty pieces in this collection. And, the majority of them are exceptional pieces of writing, essays that will make you smile at times. They'll always make you think.

Of course, I have favorite essays. There's "Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming". "So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. I'm going to tell you that libraries are important. I'm going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I'm going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things." "Everything changes when we read." Gaiman talks about his local library when he was growing up, and how he worked his way through the children's library, and then started on the adult books. He ends that essay saying, "I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand."

He also discusses his love of libraries and librarians in his Newbery Medal Speech in 2009, his speech after he was awarded the award for The Graveyard Book. The speech is called "Telling Lies for a Living...And Why We Do It". Here's a writer who says, "It was as if some people believed there was a divide between the books that you were permitted to enjoy and the books that were good for you." Where's Neil Gaiman? "I was, and still am, on the side of books you love."

Neil Gaiman loves books. He discusses "Four Bookshops", and in that essay, says, "I wonder who I would have been, without those shelves, without those people and those places, without books. I would have been lonely, I think, and empty, needing something for which I did not have the words."

There's so much more, but I mentioned some of my favorite essays, ones that discuss books and reading and libraries. Gaiman discusses music and comics, graphic novels. There are introductions he wrote to books by favorite authors. And, he ends with an essay that breaks your heart if you're a fan of Terry Pratchett because Gaiman was a fan, a friend, a co-author. Of course, there's the essay "Make Good Art", given as a commencement address. And, as a fiction reader, I'm fond of his statement, "Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over."

Neil Gaiman is a man with wide interests, and he shares his passions and interests in this wonderful collection. Looking for "good art"? Pick up Neil Gaiman's fascinating book, The View from the Cheap Seats, and take your time. Savor all the words carefully selected by a master.

Neil Gaiman's website is 

The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman. William Morrow. 2016. ISBN 9780062262264 (hardcover), 544p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book after asking to participate in the TLC Book Tour.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


As I said before, my family was here. My Mom, and sisters, Linda and Christie, came in to celebrate Mom's birthday. We had a wonderful time because we were together. We laughed and talked, played cards, and Linda picked on us, and we laughed so much we cried. And, Mom said it was the most fun we'd ever had. What's more important for a mother's birthday?

So, here are just random pictures to share. Thanks for taking the birthday picture, Christie! We all went to see Laura Bradford with her launch of Eclair and Present Danger, and had that delicious eclair cake. But, then we came back to my place and had birthday cake and ice cream because we had to for Mom's 80th birthday.

Left to right - Christie, Linda, Mom, Me

The next morning, we set out for Brown County and Nashville, Indiana. In the fall, it's known for its leaves. It's always known for its shops - over 200 arts and crafts shops.

We stayed at Iris Gardens, a rustic collection of small cottages right in the heart of the village. Our cottage was The Heart of Nashville.

Outside Tthe Heart of Nashville

It was the perfect location for us. We were across the street from a restaurant that had live music from 7-9 every night. So, we sat outside, played cards, and listened and sang along to the music. We had gorgeous weather in between weeks of rain in Indiana and temperatures soaring into the high 90s. Our weather was perfect.

When I sat outside on Thursday morning, before we headed out, these two were my morning companions.

There's fun public art around Nashville.

And, some of the public art is at the Brown County Public Library.

And, the shops themselves sometimes had beautiful landscaping.

Our favorite shops? They were ones marked with maple leaves. That meant over 80% of the items in the shop were made in the U.S. or by local artists. We all bought glass pieces at the two glassblowers' shops. They were both owned by a family of glassblowers, and we saw one of the sons blowing glass. The father is 84, started the business, and we talked with him both days. There are two identical twin sons who are glassblowers. And, the grandson is the third generation in the shops. He's also a glassblower.

Great, great trip together. Here's my favorite piece of art from the entire trip - my mother, who even put green tints in her hair to celebrate her 80th birthday. Love to Mom, Linda & Christie, and thank you for four great days together.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Laura Bradford On Tour - Recap

Laura Bradford recently appeared at the North Park Library in Evansville, Indiana, launching her book tour for Eclair and Present Danger. It's her twenty-fourth published book, and her first in the Emergency Dessert Squad series. She was joined by Lynn Cahoon, whose book, Teacups and Carnage, was also released on Tuesday, June 7.

Laura told the audience she gets her ideas at different places. This one came about because a teenager who needs a job after graduation was visiting, and Laura discovered she likes to bake. The girl likes food trucks, and they kicked around the idea of a dessert food truck. Although the teen wasn't impressed, Laura was inspired to write the Emergency Dessert Squad mysteries.

Winnie, the amateur sleuth in Eclair and Present Danger, has always wanted to bake and own her own bakery. But, her landlord in Silver Lake, Ohio thinks Silver Lake will be the next downtown shopping mecca, and he's raised the rent so high Winnie can no longer afford the space for her bakery. When she hears she's an heir in a friend's will, she hopes she'll inherit enough to keep the bakery open. Instead, she inherits a cat who hates her, and a 1960s vintage ambulance. So, she comes up with names such as Hot Flash Fudge Sundae, and hopes to provide desserts for people with a life emergency that can be eased with dessert.  The next book in the series will be Silence of the Flans, out in March. Laura said Tom Clancy is probably rolling over in his grave to know that Eclair and Present Danger's title was inspired by Clancy's Clear and Present Danger. The publishers, who have final say on the titles, are influenced by thrillers.

Laura Bradford also writes Amish mysteries. She started when Amish romances were hot. She's always been drawn to Little House on the Prairie, with that old-fashioned lifestyle.

The Amish are ripe for crime. Although Bradford doesn't write about missing children, the Amish don't take pictures, so there would be no picture of a missing child. They keep their money in the house, not in a bank. They are also pacifists, and don't like talking to police because the police carry guns.

Bradford does a lot of research. She spends a week in Lancaster every year, and go on tours so she can see the houses. The Amish are now in thirty states although they started out near Philadelphia. Their population doubles every twenty years. They have to move because they run out of land to pass on to the sons. Farms go to the youngest sons in the family. Because of the lack of land, if they come up with another trade, such as carpentry, they can stay. In her research, she also learned that many of the horses pulling the buggies are retired racehorses, and she used that in the most recent Amish mystery, A Churn for the Worse.

The Amish come from a sect that is similar to the Mennonites. They were led by Jakob Ammann when they split from a larger group of Swiss in 1693/94. The Amish do not believe in baptism for young children. In the 1720s, they started to come to this country.

Laura also writes The Southern Sewing Circle mysteries under the name Elizabeth Lynn Casey. She uses that name because Penguin owns that series. They wanted a series set in the South, with a group of women who gathered to sew. That's how Bradford broke into the mystery genre. Book eleven in that series, Needle and Dread, came out in April.

Bradford wanted to write since she was ten, and spent time writing books with a friend. She went to college to be a journalist, studying at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. But, she didn't start writing fiction until she had her daughters, which is why it took her five years to write her first book, ,Jury of One. But, she received an Agatha nomination for her first mystery. She published with a smaller house, World Wide Mystery, and wrote some romances for Harlequin before her mysteries were published by Penguin. She always wanted to be with a New York house.

Most of Laura's characters are not based on actual people. She may use traits of different people. But, in the Emergency Dessert Squad mysteries, Mr. Nelson is based on her Uncle Ray. He was ninety-six, and died that day, on launch day for the book, which sort of took some of the excitement away.

Because Laura had been talking with some of the audience before the program, she mentioned Magan Cum Murder, a conference that used to be held in Muncie, Indiana. That's where it was when Bradford attended her first conference and had an interesting experience. Harlan Coben was one of the speakers, and he heard Laura say that Mary Higgins Clark was the author who influenced her. So, he asked her later if she'd like to talk to Clark. Bradford didn't even know, at the time, who Harlan Coben was. But, he dialed Clark on his cell phone, and Laura had the chance to talk to her mystery idol. She and Harlan Coben have been friends since, and she did read his books.

In answer to a question, Laura said she spends about three months writing per book. It's been a joy to write the Emergency Dessert Squad books, and she's already written all three of the books she's contracted for. They went well. The characters are real people to her. When she hits a stumbling block, it's usually because she's trying to make the characters do something that isn't normal, something they don't want to do.

Bradford said she doesn't outline, but she does know the beginning and end of the books before she writes them. She bullet points a few chapters ahead. Once, she had a problem and none of her characters wanted to die. So, she wrote that story as a romance. She heard about a letter dated 1950, found behind a table at a post office when the table was moved. It intrigued her. How could have that letter changed a life? So, she wrote a story. She wrote four romances, but really feels as if her genre is mystery. She says she tries to write in the morning, but sometimes social media sucks out all the time. And, an author has to use social media to reach readers. It's also important to appear at library events and bookstores.

Laura feels as if her strength is in her characters. She finds them fascinating. With the Amish series, she finds the act of shunning interesting, so she uses it in her Amish series. If a person leaves the Amish sect after baptism, they're shunned, as is her police detective in the book, even if they leave for a valid reason. He wanted to solve a murder within the community. She did say that children are being raised in the Amish tradition. They're not truly Amish until they're baptized. 8 out of 10 or 9 out of 10 stay and get baptized.

She said cozies are about solutions and justice at the end.

While Laura signed books, she and the audience feasted on a wonderful eclair cake made by one of the library staff,  just for the Eclair and Present Danger release day. And, my mother was very pleased when Laura led the room in singing "Happy Birthday" for Mom's 80th birthday.

Laura Bradford's website is

Eclair and Present Danger by Laura Bradford. Berkley Prime Crime. 2016. ISBN 9780425280898 (paperback), 292p.