Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Wedding Bel Blues by Maggie McConnon

"This place was crazier than I thought, much weirder than I remember, my family something of a bunch of oddballs with a host of secrets that they would go to great lengths to protect." When Belfast (Bel) McGrath has that realization, she doesn't know the half of it. She, and the reader, are in for a great number of surprises in Maggie McConnon's first Belfast McGrath mystery, Wedding Bel Blues.

Bel left her job as a chef in New York City in disgrace, after a former President of the U.S. found a bone in his snapper. For one month, she hides in an apartment at Shamrock Manor, her parents' home on the Hudson. But, Shamrock Manor caters to weddings and receptions, particularly for the Irish community, and Bel is soon caught up in her cousin's wedding preparations. While her parents host the event, Bel's four older brothers make up the band, and, Bel, as maid of honor, happens to be the one to witness a man fall from the second story balcony. She's also the one who knows that her cousin had one last fling with the dead man two days before the wedding.

Bel's not as good at keeping secrets as others in her family, but she hides the truth about her cousin's fling from the police, especially Kevin Hanson, her old flame from high school. But, she's not too worried about the local police. "I had gotten Kevin through sophomore-year geometry, so I wasn't all that impressed by his ability to incorporate logic into his thinking." But, Bel can bring logic to her questions. She's inquisitive and just brash enough to probe within the family, while also taking over the kitchen for wedding events.

I'd rank Maggie McConnon's Wedding Bel Blues with the best mysteries of Ellery Adams. It's a traditional mystery with characters with depth and secrets. Even Bel has a few mysteries in her past, stories to be explored in future books. McConnon has succeeded beautifully, introducing a large Irish-American family with all their love of music and celebration. But, Bel admits her family only has two emotions when they're together, happiness and anger. It's a complex family with a number of secrets.

Weddings, food, family, music, a little romance. And, of course, murder and secrets going back years.  Maggie McConnon has a wealth of material to draw on. Let's hope the other books in the series are as intriguing and fresh as Wedding Bel Blues.

Maggie McConnon, aka Maggie Barbieri has a "soon to be updated" website at www.maggiebarbieri.com

Wedding Bel Blues by Maggie McConnon. St. Martin's Press. 2016. ISBN 9781250001894 (paperback), 304p.

*****
FTC full disclosure - The publicist sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review the book.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Maggie McConnon Interview

Today, I'd like to welcome Maggie McConnon, author of Wedding Bel Blues, to the blog. So, this is a new author you have't heard of, right? Wrong. You may have heard of her as Maggie Barbieri. Either way, I'd like to introduce you to Maggie.

You're a very mysterious person, Maggie McConnon. I couldn't find an active website under either this name or Maggie Barbieri. Saying that, would you tell us about yourself?

First, thank you, Lesa, for letting me join Lesa’s Book Critiques today.  Oh, mysterious!  No one has ever called me that.  Probably a better description would be “technologically challenged” as I lost my web developer so it has been up to me to update the site. I can assure you that changes are on the way.  You’re right:  I’m really Maggie Barbieri and I do have a soon-to-be-updated website (www.maggiebarbieri.com) but also an up-to-date Facebook Author page where a good deal of communication happens between me and my friends and readers.  By day, I’m a textbook editor and in between reading content on a variety of academic topics – I know a little about a lot of things – I write mysteries.  I live in the Hudson Valley of New York State, a place that will be familiar to my readers, as all of my novels have been set in one or another part of this region. My husband and I share our house with our two offspring – 22 and 17 – a neurotic, but lovable, West Highland Terrier and an alpha-male Maine Coon cat who thinks the house really belongs to him and that he just allows us to live there.


Would you introduce us to Belfast (Bel) McGrath?

Belfast McGrath is a former New York City chef, a celebrity in the food scene really, who has fallen on hard times after a plate leaves her kitchen with a meal that nearly kills a former President of the United States. In one fell swoop, she loses her job, her fiancé, and the life she loves. What’s a woman to do when her whole world crumbles like a stale cookie?  She goes back home to the family she left behind fifteen years earlier:  four brothers, a mother, father, and a host of extended-family members who are just dying to tell Bel what to do with the rest of her life. The town she left was one she never wanted to return to; there are bad memories and a lingering sadness resulting from her best friend having disappeared when she and Bel were just teens. They mystery of what happened to Amy Mitchell that night haunts Bel and coming back to the Landing opens old wounds.


What can you tell us about Wedding Bel Blues, without spoilers?

WEDDING BEL BLUES starts with a wedding, as you might expect.  Bel has been back in Foster’s Landing, her hometown, for a little over two months, and during that time, has tried to put together the pieces of her broken life while preparing for her role as maid-of-honor at her cousin Caleigh’s wedding, a not-so-blushing bride who has sown her wild oats with a wedding crasher two nights before.  After Caleigh confesses this to Bel, just as she is to walk down the aisle, Bel meets a handsome wedding guest - Caleigh’s paramour - who ends up dead at Bel’s feet just a few hours into the celebration.  As luck would have it, the boy-next-door who broke Bel’s heart years ago, Kevin Hanson, is now a Foster’s Landing detective and in charge of the case.  As the sole witness to the man’s passing, Bel finds herself smack in the middle of the case and does some digging of her own so that at the very least, she has something to distract and her and just maybe, her life can return to normal.


You wrote the Maeve Conlon thrillers under Maggie Barbieri. What are you enjoying about writing a cozier mystery series?

I love humor and although the Maeve Conlon books did have some humor, it was dark and black and came from a place I don’t often like to go to in my writing or thoughts.  The Belfast McGrath books are more openly and obviously humorous and although the humor can be black, it’s not quite as dark as that you would find in one of my thrillers.  I like to mine the humor in Bel’s family relationships and the situations she finds herself in because, let’s face it, who doesn’t have an odd duck or two in their family?


What authors influenced you?

My favorite author is Stephen King, hands down.  I have read every King book – THE STAND being my all-time favorite – but was particularly influenced by his ON WRITING, which let me in on the fact that most writers have their own style, their own process, their own way of handling the ups and downs of their own creativity.  That book gave me permission to fly by the seat of my writing pants and to write what I love, how I love to do it. Prior to reading that book, I thought that aspiring to be a writer was beyond me and my capabilities but King showed me that doubts plague most writers and can be overcome with diligence, practice, and discipline.


Maggie, a few personal questions. What's the most beautiful place you've ever been?

I love Paris.  I know it’s a cliché to say that but I have been three times now and each time, I have to pinch myself that I am indeed in the City of Lights and it’s not a dream.  Everything about Paris is magical and a little unbelievable in its beauty from the Eiffel Tower to the residential streets of the Marais district.  My dream is to take an apartment there for a month and just walk the streets – okay, and eat and drink a little, too – like a native.  I speak passable French that I would love to turn that into fluent French at some point.


What's your earliest memory of your Irish heritage?

We’re so Irish that that is a hard question to answer.  I had three grandparents growing up – my father’s parents in the Bronx and my mother’s mother in our native Brooklyn – as well as a host of aunts and uncles who all had brogues and those were the first voices I heard.  There was always singing and dancing and longing for the “old country” at family get-togethers and every event was steeped in Irish tradition.  One memory that has stayed with me all these years is from my first trip to Ireland.  I was five and my parents toted me, my three-year-old brother, eighteen-month-old sister and my maternal grandmother back to Ireland so she could visit her surviving siblings – two sisters and a brother.  My grandmother had come here as a twenty-year-old in the 1920s and had bought some very lovely homes in Brooklyn throughout the years; she was financially secure and successful after coming here with nothing.  Seeing where she had grown up and where one of her sisters and brother still lived – in a cottage at the top of a steep hill that still boasted a dirt floor – was an eye-opening experience for me, even as a child.  Although it was beautiful and the vistas from the top of the hill gorgeous, I can now see what made my grandmother leave and the image of her standing by the front door of her childhood home has stayed with me all these years and made me think about the Irish and the immigrant experience in general.


What are you reading right now?

I am in a predominantly male book club and my husband is also a member. This month was his turn to pick and he chose WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas which coincidentally is about three generations an Irish-American family.  I’m loving it and looking forward to that discussion.


Without spoilers, what can you tell us about Bel's next adventure?

Belfast McGrath can next be seen in BEL OF THE BRAWL, a story that picks up not too long after WEDDING BEL BLUES.  Bel is now happily ensconced as chief cook and bottle washer, as they say, at Shamrock Manor, her family’s catering hall, dating the delicious Brendan Joyce, and about as happy as she has been in a long time.  But finding another dead body – this time the result of a groom having had a heart attack – and realizing that one of the waitresses at the Manor has gone missing throws her back into sleuthing, this time with her brother, Cargan, in tow for reasons I cannot disclose here.


And, the question I always end with. I'm a librarian. Tell me a story about a library or librarian in your life.

Until two years ago, my local library boasted one of the most wonderful librarians I had ever known, someone who became a dear friend before she retired.  A visit with Mary often included her recommendations for the newest and best cozy mysteries or a recipe or two, as she was a devoted collector of cookbooks. When it came to mysteries, she was a huge fan and as such, supported me by talking to locals about my books and books that I recommended to her and really boosted the library’s collection of new and classic mysteries.  She was always a step ahead of me even when it came to the latest and greatest mysteries, mostly cozy, and turned me on to some fabulous writers and series.  She moved away and I miss her!


Thank you, Maggie, for taking time for the interview.

Wedding Bel Blues by Maggie McConnon. St. Martin's Press. 2016. ISBN 9781250001894 (paperback), 336p.



Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch

I vaguely remember thinking I wanted to read Wendy Welch's book when it came out in 2012, but that was the year I was applying for jobs and getting ready to move from Arizona. However, I follow Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC on Facebook, and that reminded me of the book. Welch's book, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is "A memoir of friendship, community, and the uncommon pleasure of a good book", the story of the used bookstore owned by Welch and her husband, Scottish folksinger Jack Beck.

Welch and Beck really had no idea how to run a bookstore. Welch had just left a soul-stealing job in academia, and she found what turned out to be, unfortunately, a similar job. But, in moving, they stumbled upon an old house that appeared to be perfect for the used bookstore they wanted to own. Unfortunately, their money was tied up in the house in a previous town. They were opening a bookstore in a town that was coping with a dying coal industry, and had a dying downtown. It was the  recession, and Big Stone Gap, Virginia was a "notoriously insular region". Would they welcome new people? And, Wendy and Jack had no business plan, no experience, and were totally unprepared to run a business in a small town. But, they opened Tales of the Lonesome Pine, and set out to win over the hearts and minds of the community.

The book covers all the mistakes the couple made, all the reasons not to open a bookstore, while making those of us who love books and bookstores fall in love all over again. Welch doesn't gloss over their problems, or the hardships of running a bookstore. At the same time, it was what she and Beck wanted. "Our dream: a peaceful and fun life full of books in a community that we appreciated, and that appreciated us." The community grew to appreciate them, their cats, their music, the books and events they share. But, it took Stephen Igo in the Kingsport Times-News to sum up their existence, and bring people to the bookstore. His article was about "What goes on in a bookstore operated on the principles of imagination and love of life."

Welch's book is about community, people, books. It's funny at times, slightly sad when she tells about people donating books from loved ones who have died. And, tea and shortbread cookies help with the difficult moments.

I could spend a great deal of time summarizing this charming book. However, you really need to read Wendy Welch's own words about Tales of the Lonesome Pine, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. She sums of the feelings of so many of us who just love books. "Deep in our hearts Jack and I simply could not imagine a life without books and words and the smell of paper."

Wendy Welch's website is https://wendywelchbigstonegap.wordpress.com or you can find them on Facebook at Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC.

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch. St. Martin's Press. 2012. ISBN 9781250010636 (hardcover), 291p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Purrs of Wisdom by Ingrid King

Ingrid King knows a great deal about cats. She is a former veterinary hospital manager. She also blogs at the award-winning, long-running site, The Conscious Cat. Her latest book, Purrs of Wisdom: Enlightenment, Feline Style, is a collection of essays based on lessons learned from cats.

King has so many wonderful comments about cats and their people. She believes that cats come into our lives to teach us, and the first thing they teach us is unconditional love. Her observations of cats leads to suggestions about the benefits of stretching, the benefits of meditation. She says there's "A direct correlation between the human's happiness and the cat's."

Over and over, King points out that cats "live in the present". They appreciate every sun puddle. They don't regret the past or worry about the future. These are all lessons she says we could absorb into our own lives. She organizes her chapters, and the lessons into "Practical Purrs", "Spiritual Purrs", "Transformational Purrs", and "Philosophical Purrs".

Purrs of Wisdom is definitely for those of us who have cats in our lives. In fact, King suggests the book is best read with a cat in your lap or curled up beside you. That's exactly what I did, and I enjoyed the book and the hints. My favorite hint? "Find joy in the simple things. A perfectly brewed cup of tea or coffee, a book I've been wanting to read, and a cat or two curled up next to me or in my lap: what more does anyone need to be content?" What more indeed.

Ingrid King's blog is at http://consciouscat.net

Purrs of Wisdom: Enlightenment, Feline Style by Ingrid King. Mango Media Inc. 2016. ISBN 9781633532892 (paperback), 139p.

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

Winners and Arizona Crime Giveaway

It's always a surprise when my giveaways end up going to the same state. Mary Kay Andrews' The Weekenders is heading to Texas. Jane R. from Driftwood, TX won one copy, and Karen R. from Katy, TX won the other.

Arizona is the setting for this week's crime novels. CB McKenzie's Bad Country was the winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize. Rodeo Grace Garnet is retired from the rodeo circuit, just scraping by as a bounty hunter, warrant server, and divorce snoop. So, he reluctantly says yes when he's hired to solve the murder of an Indian teenager. It's a noir novel that captures the rough-and-tumble Southwest.





Becky Masterman's thriller, Fear the Darkness, is about ex-FBI agent Brigid Quinn, trying to settle down in a new life with a husband, friends, and a nice, quiet job as a private investigator. But, the death of her sister-in-law brings her troubled niece into her quiet life. And, her investigation of the death of a local couple's son makes her wonder if there's anyone she can trust, "or if the devil has simply moved closer to home".

Which dark crime novel would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read either "Win Bad Country" or "Win Fear the Darkness." Please include your name and mailing address. The contest will end Thursday, June 2 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Front Page Affair by Radha Vatsal

I made a serious mistake while I read Radha Vatsal's debut mystery, A Front Page Affair. I found myself criticizing Kitty Weeks, the young journalist/amateur sleuth for her naïveté. And, then I realized a nineteen-year-old young woman, brought up in Europe prior to 1915, working her first job, would be that innocent. But, Vatsal does an excellent job introducing readers to Kitty's world, and pre-war New York City.

Kitty Weeks is well-off, living with her widowed father. They have a chauffeur, cook, and maid, which leaves Kitty with time for a job. In her position working on the  Ladies' Page of the New York Sentinel, she's asked to attend an Independence Day gala to report back about the guests, their clothes, and the festivities. But, when a man is murdered in the stables during the fireworks, it's a guest that Kitty met earlier. And, the newspaper quickly capitalizes on her presence to ask her to talk to the women involved with the event.

Kitty's soon deeply involved in an investigation that turns out to have national war-time implications. And, even her father may secretly be involved. It's an investigation that puts Kitty's job, her friendships, and her father, at risk. But, the young innocent journalist is determined to find out the truth.

The United States is still a neutral country at the time of A Front Page Affair, and Vatsal deftly handles the story of the political maneuverings, using newspaper headlines and breakfast table discussions to keep the historical details as background. The time period is essential to the story. The author uses details such as Kitty's car and clothes, the current society news, the new Cloisters museum, New York City itself, to provide background.

Kitty Weeks is a new addition to the historical mystery scene. Once I got over my initial reaction, I discovered a well-researched story that is a promising debut.

Radha Vatsal's website is www.radhavatsal.com

A Front Page Affair by Radha Vassal. Sourcebooks Landmark. 2016. ISBN 9781492632665 (paperback), 336p.

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


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What Are You Reading?

I'm a little over halfway through a debut mystery, Radha Vatsal's A Front Page Affair. It's a story of a young female journalist in 1915 who started out on the Ladies' Page. But, she was covering an event when a guest was murdered, and she's asked to talk with some of the guests. It's a mystery that combines the status of women in 1915 and the pre-war years in the United States.

So, what are you reading today? I'll check back whenever I can.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Shakespeare Basics for Grown-Ups by E. Foley & B. Coates

E. Foley and B. Coates really have put together "Everything You Need to Know About the Bard". Shakespeare Basics for Grown-Ups isn't comprehensive, naturally, because it's the basics. But, the authors do an excellent job providing the background to the author and his writings.

It is helpful to put Shakespeare's life and writings in the context of the times he lived in. And, the authors make it clear that the playwright did not need to give a great deal of background to his plays. The audience knew their own recent history. Why subject them to it again? Foley and Coates talk about the literature that influenced Shakespeare, earlier writings and plays. Then, they break down his plays - the comedies, histories, tragedies, discussing them, highlighting passages readers are familiar with, giving the backstory that those of us who were not Shakespeare's contemporaries may not know. And, they include a short section on his poems as well.

There are still many mysteries surrounding the greatest playwright of the English language. The authors discuss his wife, the mysteries about his life, even the debate as to whether or not he wrote the plays. In context, they discuss some of the men who wrote with him, and the ones he assisted with their plays. They discuss the difficulties with dating the plays.

My favorite part of the book was actually the Epilogue. It includes tips for watching Shakespeare, themes that recur in the plays, and a wonderful section about great Shakespearean actors.

Foley and Coates succeeded with their mission for this book. Shakespeare Basics for Grown-Ups may not be a book for experts. But, it's definitely all that most of us will ever need to appreciate Shakespeare's work.

Shakespeare Basics for Grown-Ups: Everything You Need to Know About the Bard by E. Foley & B. Coates. Plume. 2014. ISBN 9780147515360 (paperback), 326p.

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

The True Tails of Baker and Taylor by Jan Louch with Lisa Rogak

If you're a librarian, you'll recognize the names of Baker and Taylor. For those who are not, that's the name of a library book wholesaler. Those were also the names of two Scottish Fold cats, the mascots of a public library in Nevada. The True Tails of Baker and Taylor is the story of those cats, told by the librarian who took care of them for fifteen years, Jan Louch, with assistance from Lisa Rogak.

In 1982, the Douglas County Library System in Nevada built a new library in Minden. It wasn't long before Louch and the library director, Yvonne, saw mice behind the library. The new library had been built on an alfalfa field, and that meant mice. Jan and Yvonne decided to get two cats, and, once they did research about cats who would be good in a public building, they pooled their resources and bought a Scottish Fold, naming him Baker. It was going to take time to save up money for the second cat, but after Yvonne wrote to Baker & Taylor about their plans for the pair of cats, the company offered to buy the second cat for the library. In exchange, they wanted a few pictures to make a poster. Once librarians saw the poster of those two cats, Baker and Taylor became the first famous library cats.

This book is the story of two library cats, but it's also Jan Louch's story. She grew up in California, married a man who became a college professor, had two children, and was devastated when he said he wanted a divorce. In a fog, she moved to Nevada, and she and the kids moved in with her parents. But, as a child it was her love of books that kept her sane. And, in 1978, at the age of forty-seven, that love of books found her a job at the public library in Minden. But, it was really Louch's relationship with Baker and Taylor that lifted her out of the post-divorce fog.

Baker and Taylor pre-dated Dewey, the library cat. They became famous throughout the library world, on bags, calendars, and other giveaways. But, they also became part of the community, and Jan Louch's heart. The cats represented the library to people who had never been in the library. But, here's a warning. This book will break your heart. It can't be helped. The book was just published, and the cats were library cats in the 1980s and 1990s. You know how the book will end. I sobbed throughout the last seventy pages or so.

The True Tails of Baker and Taylor is the story of two cats who brought a library staff together, brought a community together, and mended Jan Louch's heart. It's a story for all of us who love cats, books, and libraries.

The True Tails of Baker and Taylor by Jan Louch with Lisa Rogak. Thomas Dunne Books. 2016. ISBN 9781250081070 (hardcover), 288p.

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


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Prayers the Devil Answers by Sharon McCrumb

The opening of Sharon McCrumb's Prayers the Devil Answers takes readers into the superstitions and  traditions of the people who live in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. But, that opening, as unusual as it is, is only a small element in McCrumb's novel. Instead, this is a story of a woman's strength and determination as she holds on to her family during the Depression. Along the way, that woman's story collides with an earlier Appalachian curse.

"Magic has rules, but she broke them." Celia was just one of a group of six teenage girls who participated in the tradition of the Dumb Supper, hoping to see the face of the man she would marry. But, she was the only one who broke the rules. And, years later when tragedy struck, one of the participants thought that Celia was cursed because of that night.

By the time Ellendor Robbins heard that story it was just another story to tell about a condemned man. Ellen and her husband, Albert, along with their two sons, had moved from the mountain farm they shared with family so they could make it on their own. But, it wasn't easy for a mountain man to move into town during the 1930s. There was little work, and Albert wasn't one to be cooped up. So, he signed on as a deputy sheriff, and, when the sheriff was shot and killed, Albert ran as his replacement. He wasn't in the job long before he too was struck down. But, Albert dies of pneumonia,  leaving Ellendor, a thirty-six-year-old widow, who needs to make a living to support her family. She's educated enough to do paperwork, so she forces herself to overcome her shyness to ask to be interim sheriff.

Ellendor Robbins and her four deputies handle the day-to-day small crimes of a small mountain community. But, when Celia's story, and a killer, collide with the new sheriff's story, she faces an unusual problem. Only the sheriff, even a woman, can execute a condemned man in Tennessee.

Sharyn McCrumb has always has a way with the language and stories of the mountains. In this case, she brings superstition and the true story of a female sheriff together in a powerful story. It's powerful because of her portrayal of Ellendor Robbins as a woman who pushes pass her weaknesses in order to  support her family. The character of Ellendor develops during the course of the story, and she recovers the courage and strength she once showed as a schoolgirl.  More than anything, this is a story of one woman during the Depression, one woman's determination.

McCrumb leaves the reader wanting more, wanting more of the character, more of the story. It's a story that sparks imagination in the reader. We'll only know Ellendor Robbins' future in our own imagination. Prayers the Devil Answers does what every good story should do.

Sharyn McCrumb's website is www.sharynmccrumb.com

Prayers the Devil Answers by Sharon McCrumb. Atria Books. 2016. ISBN 9781476772813 (hardcover), 341p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book



Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Highwayman by Craig Johnson

Longmire. Need I say more? Thanks to Jen Forbus, I've been a fan of Craig Johnson's writings for years. I'm particularly fond of his novellas and short stories. Every word is precisely chosen to set the tone, the atmosphere, to build a character. The Highwayman is a ghost story set away from Walt Longmire's Absaroka County. But Johnson does include two important characters from his novels. Walt Longmire's narration of the story is beautifully supported by Henry Standing Bear's knowledge of tribal legends.

Rosey Wayman left Longmire's area to take an assignment with the Highway Patrol division in the Wind River Canyon area of Wyoming. But, Rosey needs help. At 12:34 a.m., she receives a radio transmission that only she hears. It calls her unit number, 3, and says 10-78, which means officer needs assistance. And, she swears it's the voice of Bobby Womack, the first Arapaho trooper, who died in a fiery accident over thirty years earlier. Despite his own experiences with the unexplained, Walt is skeptical. But, Henry knows the Shoshone and Arapaho stories of "the Highwayman", a figure who wears a coat with the name Womack on it, a figure who helps stranded motorists. He doesn't know the story of the stolen 1888-O Hot Lips Morgan silver dollars, the story that destroyed Bobby Womack's reputation. Rosey has a story about those silver dollars, and, before it's over, Walt has a story or two about them as well.

I can't say more without ruining an excellent ghost story. Instead, I'll mention again how skilled Craig Johnson is as a storyteller. His descriptions of the Wind River Canyon, the tunnels that cut through it, take the reader to the treacherous terrain. And, he carefully puts the stories of the Shoshone, the Arapaho, and the Cheyenne in the words of Henry Standing Bear, a man with dignity, dry humor, an insightful knowledge, and strength. The friendship between Walt and Henry says a great deal about both men.

The Highwayman is the latest offering to readers. It's respectful of the characters, the land, and the legends of the region. It reflects the love Craig Johnson has for the characters he's created, and the land and people in Wyoming. As always, he shows a respect for the men and women who serve the people.

Walt, as an investigator, has to have answers. And, he does get some answers, but Johnson never completely lets Longmire off the hook. The Highwayman is another haunting, unexplained, novella from a gifted storyteller.

Craig Johnson's website is www.craigallenjohnson.com

The Highwayman by Craig Johnson. Viking. 2016. ISBN 9780735220898 (hardcover), 190p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews

Once again, the queen of the beach reads, Mary Kay Andrews, kicks off her latest novel, The Weekenders, with drama, great characters, and tension. Andrews knows how to tell a story, and, she knows how to capture the atmosphere of a summer island community.

Riley Nolan Griggs has about had it with her husband. He doesn't even show up on the ferry to Belle Isle when they're going to tell their daughter they're getting a divorce. Thank heavens Riley has a great friend in Parrish Godchaux. Otherwise, she would have had to deal with her collapsing life all by herself. Memorial Day weekend starts out with plans for the annual summer party, but the news Riley receives doesn't put her in the partying spirit. There's certainly no help from her pre-teen diabetic daughter who loves her father, her overbearing mother or her alcoholic brother when Riley learns her husband, Wendell, left her with their house in foreclosure and her family's business in dire financial straits thanks to Wendell's overambitious plans for the island. Wendell sees it as expansion. Riley sees it as destruction. And, then the man doesn't even show up to confront her face-to-face. But, Wendell isn't the only one hiding things from Riley. The entire family seems to have secrets. And, some of those secrets might come to life when a body is fished out of the water.

Readers will root for Riley. Once an independent woman, at forty-two she's been beaten down by a profession that prefers younger women, a needy daughter, and an overbearing husband and mother who both seem to think business is a man's field. In the eyes of Riley's daughter, Maggy, and her mother, Evelyn, Wendell Griggs can do no wrong. As Riley suffers through the discoveries of how wrong her husband could be, she slowly learns to stand up for herself, but it takes time and suffering.

Mary Kay Andrews has always been able to create colorful characters. Her latest novel, The Weekenders, is a character-driven story of a family destroyed by greed. It's a story that pits development against conservation, as so many island stories realistically do. And, it's a story with a promise of hope, built on a future that includes love. It's Mary Kay Andrews, once again building a story with a strong sense of place and a female lead character who learns to stand on her own two feet after suffering loss and humiliation. In other words, The Weekenders is another enjoyable story by Andrews.

*****
And, best of all for readers, the publicist is giving away one copy of The Weekenders, and I'm giving away an ARC. If you'd like to try to win a copy, email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read "Win The Weekenders." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, May 26 at 6 PM CT.

*****
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mary Kay Andrews is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Beach Town, Save the Date, Ladies' Night, Christmas Bliss, Spring Fever, and Summer Rental, all from St. Martin's Press, as well as The Fixer Upper, Deep Dish, Blue Christmas, Savannah Breeze, Hissy Fit, Little Bitty Lies, and Savannah Blues, all HarperPerennial. On May 17, 2016, St. Martin's Press released her 24th novel, THE WEEKENDERS. A former journalist for The Atlanta Journal Constitution, she divides her time between Atlanta and Tybee Island, Georgia. Her website is www.MaryKayAndrews.com.

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

Thursday, May 19, 2016

What Are You Reading?

I am halfway through Mary Kay Andrews' latest book, The Weekenders. It combines family drama,
mystery and romance in a North Carolina island setting, just what you expect of the Queen of Summer Beach Reads. That's a compliment.

So, what are you reading right now? I'd love to know, now that I'm back from BEA and have the time to look at your comments. Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Boar Island by Nevada Barr

Obsession. Nevada Barr combines unlikely obsessions in a novel that finds Anna Pigeon in Acadia National Park. She's surrounded by friends, but she still manages to find herself in the middle of trouble in Barr's latest book, Boar Island.

When Anna's goddaughter, Elizabeth, tries to kill herself, Elizabeth's mother, Heath, rallies the troops. Dr. Gwendolyn Littleton and Anna both show up, only to find Elizabeth is the victim of an unknown cyberbully. They suspect the neighbors are involved, but they can't do anything as terrible photos go viral. When Anna says she's been assigned a twenty-one-day detail as acting chief ranger in Acadia National Park in Maine, her group of friends decide they'll visit friends there. But, Boar Island, where they're staying isn't quite what they expect. And, someone knows where they're going.

And, someone with an obsession is already there. Denise Castle, who once lived with the park's assistant superintendent, is not happy watching her ex-lover with his new wife and baby. When she finds a woman who looks like her, drinking in a bar, she makes a connection. "The woman's outside was a public image of her own inside: battered, abused, ashamed, and drinking alone." Both women, who share a past, have revenge on their mind.

Barr is capable of mixing all these plots together in a couple storylines involving obsession, but, to be honest, it was easy to guess where the plot was going. And, one of the storylines seemed old and stale. I'm not going to discuss it further because I don't want to spoil the book for others who want to read Boar Island. I felt the story lacked imagination. And, the final scene in which Anna was endangered seemed a little outrageous.

Saying that, the early discussion of cyberstalking showed how cruel it can be, and how impossible it is to handle. It was terrible to watch the reactions of a sixteen-year-old to such cruelty.

I may not have been excited about Boar Island. But, that's just my reaction, and I'm sure there are others who will appreciate Nevada Barr's latest book.

Nevada Barr's website is www.nevadabarr.com

Boar Island by Nevada Barr. Minotaur Books. 2016. ISBN 9781250064691 (hardcover), 374p.

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


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Cat Shaming by Pedro Andrade

You may have seen Pascale Lemire's website or book, Dog Shaming. Now Pedro Andrade follows with a book of photos called Cat Shaming in which cat owners illustrate the misdeeds of their cats. It's not the same. And, it's not the same for one simple reason: cats are not ashamed of anything they do.


Unlike those photos in which dogs actually look upset that they upset their human, there isn't a cat in this book who looks as if their antics are out-of-line. A few of them actually look proud of their behavior. And, there's a sense that most of the cats will continue to act, well, like cats. I have one cat who shreds toilet paper and paper towels. The same cat chewed cords. He outgrew the cords. I still have to keep toilet paper in a drawer or it will be shredded. He's also the one who turned into a Tasmanian Devil when one vet handled him, and made me into a liar when I warned a second vet about him. He was as cuddly and sweet as possible. Ah, Josh.

The cats are photographed with signs in front of them saying things like, "I ate my owner's dessert when she was taking a cat-shaming photo of the other cat." "I chewed through the power cords of two White House-owned laptops." "I thought you'd get hungry at work so I packed a mouse in your shoe."

Cat lovers will find a collection of pictures of cute cats. But, honestly? They're just cats being cats, and not one of them appears to be guilty. Cat Shaming does nothing to make a cat ashamed.

Pedro Andrade's blog is at http://cat-shaming.tumblr.com

Cat Shaming by Pedro Andrade. Andrews McMeel Publishing. 2016. ISBN 9781449478391 (paperback).

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, May 16, 2016

Not Enough Time

Busy weekend. I didn't get home from Chicago until almost 5 on Saturday, and I worked on Sunday. That meant no reading time, and no time to catch up on the blog. And, tonight I have tickets to see Harry Connick, Jr.

I'll be back on track soon, and I have some fun pictures from BEA. In the meantime, since I said "back on track", here's Amtrak's Saluki, the train we took to Chicago and back.


A story in itself.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Triple Post - Diversity in Crime Fiction

We often hear talk of how crime fiction is the social novel of today. Many of the problems faced by society are reflected back to us through the books we read. However, diversity issues still plague this genre. Things are getting better and there are more representations of diversity in both authors and characters with each passing year, but we can still use more of these lesser-heard voices within the crime fiction community. As a way of supporting and encouraging, Dru Ann, Kristopher, and I decided to center our latest Triple Post on the subject of diversity. Fittingly, we each pinpointed and covered the topic in different ways. We hope that you will enjoy our posts and that it inspires you to try something new, something outside of your everyday box.  

Let’s be honest here. As a white reader, I didn’t even notice the lack of diversity in the mysteries I read. The characters were either men or women. And, raise your hand if you read Nancy Drew as a child, and thought every female sleuth was blonde and blue-eyed. I never really thought about diversity.

As a librarian, the lack of diversity in literature came to my attention with the convention call that “We Need Diverse Books”, a complaint directed at children’s books. That turned into the website and action group, http://weneeddiversebooks.org. Then, I read about the survey of publishing itself, dealing with the ethnicity of employees in the publishing field. The other day, during a Twitter chat about book recommendations, we were rudely interrupted by the hashtag #WhySoFewLibrariansofColor (I have one answer. Let’s talk about the five to six years of college to get two degrees, and the cost of that education.).

I digress, but it’s really to get to the point, what do we mean by diversity in crime fiction? Are we talking about authors who are the same ethnicity as their sleuths? Are we talking about authors who are knowledgeable enough about the culture and lives of a sleuth to write about one outside of their own personal racial or ethnic experience? Here’s how http://weneeddiversebooks.org defines diversity.

How we define diversity:
We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.
*We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization.

I’m sure Kristopher, Dru Ann and I all took different paths in selecting our books for today. I picked three books that struck me as being diverse, either because of the author or the sleuth.

In 2012, I read and reviewed Linda Rodriguez’ Every Last Secret. Honestly? I read it because it won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition. I didn’t know Linda Rodriguez was Native American and Latina. But, I appreciated her sleuth, Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion, who becomes chief of police on a college campus. When there is sexual assault, theft and murder on the campus, Skeet is guided by the principles of her Cherokee grandmother. “The Cherokee are big on balance. They think imbalance allows dangerous forces into the world. I had to agree. My job was to bring this small world back into balance again.” In Every Last Secret, Rodriguez utilizes her own knowledge of Native American culture as a guiding force for her sleuth.





No one handles diversity in a police force any better than Steven F. Havill does in his Posadas County series. This series is set in a made-up New Mexico county, bordering Mexico, but it deals with all the crimes and issues of a small town police force struggling with border issues. Originally, Bill Gastner was the undersheriff in this series that started in 1991. Havill slowly introduced women and Latina women to the department, as they dealt with some racial and sexual tension. In 2002, Estelle Reyes-Guzman became the main focus of the series in the book, Scavengers, when she became undersheriff. She had grown up in Mexico, and was sent to the United States, to Posadas County, to finish high school. In the course of the series, she deals with small town and border crimes. In the latest book, Come Dark, she and the sheriff, Robert Torrez, are struggling to fill in for absent officers and staff members who are on maternity leave. Havill always manages to be up-to-date with his discussions of crime, social conditions and working issues.


I haven’t had the chance to read Naomi Hirahara’s Sayonara Slam yet, but the new Mas Arai mystery is on my current pile. Hirahara was born in California, as was her father, the model for Mas Arai. Hirahara’s father was taken to Hiroshima, Japan, as a baby. According to her website, http://www.naomihirahara.com, her father was only miles from the epicenter when Hiroshima was bombed. He married her mother in Hiroshima, and moved to California where he established himself in the gardening and landscaping trade. Her amateur sleuth Mas Arai? He is a Japanese-American survivor of Hiroshima who made his living in gardening and landscaping in the Los Angeles area until he realized he was getting too old. At the time of this book, Mas only has one client. Hirahara’s Snakeskin Shamisen won the Edgar for Best Paperback Original. Now, with Sayonara Slam, Mas Arai goes to a baseball game at Dodger Stadium, Japan vs. Korea in the World Baseball Classic. The aging, widowed, quiet gardener is soon caught up in murder.


Undoubtedly, diversity in crime fiction means something different to each of us. It will be interesting to see what Dru Ann and Kristopher have to say. Thank you for stopping by the blog today. Please journey over to Dru’s Book Musings and BOLO BOOKS for further discussion of diversity in crime literature.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sayonara SLAM by Naomi Hirahara

What a fascinating character! I had never read one of Naomi Hirahara's mysteries featuring Mas Arai, the almost retired gardner who is nearing eighty. The mystery in Sayonara SLAM was interesting. But, the true mystery revealed, and, never completely revealed because he is such a private man, is the character of Mas Arai himself.

Mas, his family and friends are at Dodger Stadium for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Japan vs. South Korea. Because Mas' son-in-law is head groundskeeper, Arai is down on the field before the game with the sportswriters who are there from Japan to cover the game. So, he witnesses the death of one of them, a death that turns out to be murder. Before he knows it, a young Japanese journalist shows up at Mas' house, asking for his help as a translator and driver. Mas finds himself harassed by thugs, threatened, and involved in a case involving Japanese politics and secrets from the past.

Mas Arai's history makes him the man he is today, a private man who "often let life happen to him". He was born in the U.S., but taken to Japan as a small boy. And, he was in Hiroshima, a young survivor, when it was bombed. He's a widower, a private man, who is seeing a woman. But, he's worried about that. "If he opened his heart to Geneses, really opened it, wouldn't his decades of life with Chizuko fall and blow away like dead leaves?" These are the kind of deep questions Hirahara uses to portray Mas Arai, thoughtful questions of culture, belief, and an aging man who grew up with beliefs that are no longer common in 2009.

He's a man who would never share his life on social media. In fact, when Yuki questions him, Mas' reaction is, "Yuki had no right to his personal stories. They were Mas's to hold close and protect. Once they were released in the form of words, they could be mangled and distorted."

The mystery in Hirahara's Sayonara SLAM is an intriguing one, and there are historical events that I had never heard. I looked them up because I was so interested. But, to be honest, it's the intriguing character of Mas Arai that will draw me back to the books. Hirahara's descriptions of Mas' feelings and thoughts are beautiful. It's poetry with a depth that makes the reader think. You may pick up the book as a mystery. You'll appreciate it as a study of a man with great wisdom.

Naomi Hirahara's website is www.naomihirahara.com

Sayonara SLAM by Naomi Hirahara. Prospect Park Books. 2016. ISBN 9781938849732 (paperback), 228p.

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Radio Boys and Girls - Guest Post by Ed Sharpe

When I was in Arizona, I was the Book Editor for the Glendale Daily Planet, an online news source. Ed Sharpe is the publisher of the award-winning publication. Today, we turn the tables, and Ed has a review and commentary about The Radio Boys and Girls. Thank you, Ed.

 








The Radio Boys and Girls: Radio,
Telegraph, Telephone and Wireless
Adventures for Juvenile Readers,
1890-1945 - A View Though Literature
A Review By Ed Sharpe Director and Lead Archivist for  Southwest Museum of Engineering Communications and Computation
 Publisher - Glendale Daily Planet / KKAT-IPTV




Almost everyone remembers the Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys series books. Some of us with a science bent remember the Tom Swift and Rick Brant series of science adventure series books we read in the 1960s. Rick Brant did not make it to the current era but the Tom Swift science-based adventures continue to be published into the 21st century.

Let's go back in time... There were single issue of stories and also a entire series of books, starting in the late 1800s, where the protagonists solved mysteries and fought bad guys BUT were also using some form of electricity or electrical communications to aid them in their efforts.


The stories had all the attributes of great adventure stories that taught good values and morals, comradeship and loyalty between friends, a chance to learn about other settings.The science and electronics throughout served to provide a starting point  for may young people  that went on to become engineers, inventors and scientists.  The most fun of all - the chance to read about the bad guys getting trounced in the end!


There are entire series of books  such as THE RADIO BOYS  or THE RADIO GIRLS in which wireless or radio was a dominant part of the plot.. There were also juvenile series books in which there were various adventures, but only a volume or a few were electricity or communications related.  One example is THE MOTORBOAT CLUB AND THE WIRELESS by H Irving Hancock.  Another  example is TOM SWIFT AND HIS WIRELESS MESSAGE. Although the pre-1940s Tom Swift books all had  some sort of Gee-Whiz, this particular Tom Swift book, from the first series, is the only one with a plot involving wireless. There was, however, TOM SWIFT AND HIS GIANT MAGNET, which falls under the category of an 'electrical adventure'.

Other examples of single offerings in a series are The HARDY BOYS : SHORTWAVE MYSTERY and THE BOBBSEY TWINS IN A RADIO PLAY.

THE RADIO BOYS AND GIRLS examines more than 50 volumes of electrical, telegraph, telephone, wireless and radio themed fiction. As the time and technology changed, the apparatus and fashions change, but the common thread of good vs evil continued.

Mike Adams, with his involvement in the early history of wireless and radio, is an excellent person to illuminate the history and progression of juvenile series books related to Electricity, Wireless and Radio.

Reading these wonderful stories from the bygone era, the reader is often challenged by some of the slang and terms of the era, while also confronting  language and attitudes that we would now consider politically incorrect.

THE RADIO BOYS AND GIRLS is more complete than any previous published work on the subject. The author relied on his extensive knowledge and also referenced different collections to gather data. In addition, Mike Adams acknowledges help from James Keeline, who is perhaps the foremost expert on Juvenile Series Fiction.

THE RADIO BOYS AND GIRLS hit a warm place in my heart as I have been a lifetime lover of this literature since the time I could first read in the early 60's.

Starting in 4th grade, I discovered  the Tom Swift Jr. series by Victor Appleton and
also the Hardy  Boys by Franklin W. Dixon.  As time went on, and later in my life, especially with my involvement in the SMECC Communications Museum, I discovered more of the vintage juvenile fiction volumes involving technology.

All of these books, for the most part, center around a mythical town with patents that are pretty well off and youth protagonists that have unlimited time for adventure. This scenario set false expectations for me as a youth as I would want to wander off for an adventure far from the house or indulge in the  use of technology or tools my parents did not  think I was ready for. Or even more irritating to them was when I would request scientific apparatus or electronic test equipment that cost  $$$$$.

When my parents would reel me in, back to the reality they figured was appropriate  from my age level and their spending budget, I would  exclaim... "BUT TOM SWIFT GETS TO...."  and their speedy reply was... but... YOU are not Tom Swift, Ed!

 A  few books not mentioned in Adams’  book that I will mention and have enjoyed are THE GIRLS OF RADAR by Roy J. Snell (Goldsmith Pub. 1944) and Sally Scott of the Waves (Lots of radio!) by Roy J. Snell from the 'Fighter for Freedom Series', (Whitman Pub. 1943). These are neat as they are very WWII centered, and the SECRETS OF RADAR was set at a time when RADAR was not publicly discussed!

One other pre-1940 juvenile fiction Tom Swift book dealing with communications that should be noted is TOM SWIFT AND HIS PHOTO TELEPHONE Or, The Picture That Saved a Fortune By Victor Appleton  (Jan 1, 1914).  Yes, a fictional PicturePhone!

Read the book!  You just may start a collection of these wonderful adventure/technical books for yourself!  ---Ed#


The Radio Boys and Girls: Radio, Telegraph, Telephone and Wireless Adventures for Juvenile Readers, 1890-1945, available now from McFarland Publishing.


Print ISBN: 978-1-4766-6354-8
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-4766-2345-0
86 photos, notes, bibliography, index
240pp. softcover (7 x 10) 2016
Price for  print version $39.95

Visit http://radioboysandgirls.org/ to get a bit of visual preview.

The  book is  available  from http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com  -  Order Line  (800) 253-2187
The  book is also available in electronic form.

Visit http://radioboysandgirls.org/ to get a bit of visual preview


Mike Adams has been a radio personality and a film maker. Currently he is professor emeritus of radio, television, and film at San Jose State University, where he has been the department chair and the associate dean of the College of Humanities and the Arts. As a researcher and writer of broadcast and early technology history, he created two award-winning documentaries for PBS, the Emmy-nominated "Radio Collector" series, and "Broadcasting's Forgotten Father." He has had published numerous articles and six books, including Charles Herrold, Inventor of Radio Broadcasting, and Lee de Forest, King of Radio, Television, and Film. His latest book is "The Radio Boys and Girls: Radio, Telegraph, Telephone and Wireless Adventures for Juvenile Readers, 1890-1945." More information about the author and his work can be found at www.mikeadams.org and www.leedeforest.org, www.radioboysandgirls.org, or www.youtube.com/professormikeadams