Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott

Jessica Ellicott introduces two delightful characters in the first in a new series, Murder in an English Village. Travel back in time to 1920, just after the First World War, or The Great War, as it's called in England. Beryl Helliwell is a famous American adventuress who has piloted planes, married several times, and is quite unhappy when the United States institutes Prohibition. When her former schoolmate, Edwina Davenport, advertises for a lodger, someone to help with expenses at her house in the English village of Walmsley Parva, Beryl finds it the perfect opportunity to escape America.

Beryl crashes back into Edwina's life. In fact, her gorgeous red motorcar crashes into the pillars at the end of Edwina's drive. Beryl soon realizes she's arrived to add adventure and spice to Edwina's boring life. It only takes a story to the local village gossip, saying Edwina is a secret agent working for the king, to spark a change in the village outlook, and in Edwina's life. Of course, that means Edwina is attacked in her garden. To Beryl, it's obvious that someone in Walmsley Parva has a secret to keep hidden.

Edwina can only think of one mystery in Walmsley Parva. During the war, one of the Land Girls, the young women who came to the country to help with farm work, disappeared. She seemed dependable, and not at all the time to leave. Beryl and Edwina decide to divide and conquer, asking questions of various residents. When another young woman is murdered, they're sure that they have stirred up trouble.

Murder in an English Village is a quiet story in which the amateur sleuths investigate by questioning and talking with residents. The two characters together make an admirable duo in this enchanting story. While Edwina is a little afraid to investigate, and questions Beryl about her past experiences, Beryl responds. "What I have is a faultless sent of adventure and an enormous talent for making the best of things...Both of which I am attempting to share with you."

Murder in an English Village is the perfect mystery to recommend to fans of Agatha Christie or the Jessica Fletcher stories. "Walmsley Parva was a beautiful little place. If you didn't mind the odd murder."

Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott. Kensington Books, 2017. ISBN 9781496710505 (hardcover), 294p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams

I'm recommending Ellery Adams' new series, beginning with The Secret, Book & Scone Society, to everyone who loves Adams' Books by the Bay mysteries, readers who love Sarah Addison Allen, and all of us who love books about books. She's succeeded on all those levels with this book, and created four strong, but damaged, women that readers will care about.

Miracle Springs, North Carolina draws people who need to heal. Nora Pennington helps to heal their soul. As owner of the bookstore, she recommends titles that will help people with their problems. First, though, she sends them to Hester Winthrop at The Gingerbread House for a scone. Hester gets a feeling from each person, reading the scent and flavor that will work for them. Then, Nora searches for books that will guide them, whether it's a children's book, a collection of novels. She knows, just as someone once knew the books to help her through her own tragedy.

When a stranger in town asks Nora for suggestions, she sends him to Hester. Before he can return, though, he dies, hit by a train. Nora suspects murder from the little he said to her. Although she has a hard time with trust, she gathers together with Hester and two other women, all loners who have secrets. Although they come together to find a killer, they also know they are searching for friends. They form The Secret, Book & Scone Society, and they all agree they will reveal their dark secrets to the women in this circle.

It isn't long before they find the victim's connection to a local housing development. But, the investigation doesn't get far before one of their circle is arrested. That only makes the other three more determined to find answers. Something has become dangerous and wrong in Miracle Springs. In order to restore order, the women will have to find a way to heal the town.

The Secret, Book & Scone Society is an intense, riveting mystery. But, oh, the passion and knowledge of books that Nora shares is unbelievable. I would have loved to quote all of Adams' glorious words about books and reading. But, if you care about that, not just a great cast of characters, and an enjoyable book; if you care about that passion for books, you must read this for yourself.

Ellery Adams' website is http://www.elleryadamsmysteries.com/

The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams. Kensington, 2017. ISBN 9781496712370 (hardcover), 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Chat - November Cozy Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime

That hiss you hear during the book chat about Kate Carlisle's book? Josh wasn't happy. I hope you're happier than he was with the November releases from Berkley Prime Crime. Enjoy!

Here's the list of the mysteries in the book chat.

Assault and Buttery by Kristi Abbott - 3rd Popcorn Shop Mystery
The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha by JoAnna Carl - 16th Chocoholic Mystery (1st time in paperback)
Eaves of Destruction by Kate Carlisle - 5th Fixer-Upper Mystery
Potions and Pastries by Bailey Cates - 7th Magical Bakery Mystery
A Late Frost by Sheila Connolly - 11th Orchard Mystery
Not a Creature Was Purring by Krista Davis - 5th Paws & Claws Mystery
Better Late Than Never by Jenn McKinlay - 7th Library Lover's Mystery (1st time in paperback)
Death in the Stacks by Jenn McKinlay - 8th Library Lover's Mystery (hardcover)
City of Lies by Victoria Thompson - 1st Counterfeit Lady Mystery (hardcover)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers

As it gets close to Christmas, librarians are often asked for unusual holiday books. This year, my pick may be The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers. These aren't the typical Christmas stories. Eighteen Soho Crime authors present holiday offerings, and a few are quite twisted. Peter Lovesey introduces the collection, and ends it with his own story, a perfect Christmas ghost story.

The stories take place all over the world, "Sweden, North Korea, Thailand, Ireland, New York City, Utah, Italy, France, Denmark and England". There are dark and wicked stories in the second section called "Silent Night", in which Colin Cotterill, Ed Lin, Stuart Neville, Tod Goldberg, Henry Chang, and James R. Benn truly do write "The Darkest of Holiday Noir". In fact, Ed Lin's "Martin" was just creepy.

In "Joy to the World", Helene Tursten, Mick Herron, Martin Limon, Timothy Hallinan, Teresa Dovalpage, and Mette Ivie Harrison present "Various Acts of Kindness at Christmas". I have to admit my favorite section, though, was the final one, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus", which meant "And Other Holiday Secrets". I did think Lene Kaaberbel and Agnete Friis' story was dark enough to fall in the previous division. But, I loved stories here. Sujata Massey took us back to 1921 with Bombay's first woman solicitor. Gary Corby also took us to the past with a story of Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia. Cara Black's Paris is recognizable, but instead of an Aimee Leduc story, she tells a story of Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes. There's a Jane Austen story by Stephanie Barron.

But, it's Peter Lovesey's ghost story, "Supper with Miss Shivers" that provided an answer to a mystery, and a delightful Christmas ending.

Twisted, satisfying. The Usual Santas was not usual at all. It's a perfect Christmas gift or pre-holiday gift for someone who wants something a little different to read this year.

The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers. Soho Press, Inc., 2017. ISBN 9781616957759 (hardcover), 416p.

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

Winners and Going to the Cats

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Debora H. from New Castle, DE won Diane Vallere's Masking for Trouble. Heather Blake's The Witch and the Dead will go to Barbara G. of Brea, CA. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away mysteries involving cats. Cat Shining Bright is Shirley Rousseau Murphy's latest Joe Grey mystery. "While new father Joe Grey is overjoyed to teach his three young kittens about the world, he misses his cop work - secretly helping solve crimes alongside his human friends at Molena Point Police Department. But when beautician Barbara Conley and one of her customers are found dead in the salon, Joe makes an exception, and he heads for the crime scene. He has no idea that the kittens are following him, or how they will complicate the investigation."

I have an ARC and hardcover of Sofie Kelly's A Tale of Two Kitties. Minnesota librarian Kathleen Paulson needs the help of her two magical cats, Owen and Hercules, when two brothers return to town to reconcile, and Kathleen's friend, who argued with one of those brothers, his own father, becomes the primary suspect in his father's death. It's an excellent mystery about family and the past.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read either "Win Cat Shining Bright" or "Win A Tale of Two Kitties." Please include your name and mailing address. The contest will end Thursday, November 2 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

What Are You Reading?

I'm just starting a book that looks appealing. Before I talk about the book, I want to talk about the imprint. Graydon House is a new imprint from Harlequin. This is the second book I've picked up by them. I loved Something Like Happy, the earlier one I read. Now, I'm trying Nicola Cornick's House of Shadows. I can't tell you how much time I spent today researching "the Winter Queen, Elizabeth of Bohemia". House of Shadows is a romantic suspense novel, a time-slip novel that "weaves between the 17th-century life of the Winter Queen, Elizabeth of Bohemia, and a modern-day missing-person case." It centers on Ashdown House, and if you search online for Ashdown House, England, you can see pictures of the actual house. That's the house on the cover of the book.

So, my book has an interesting premise. What about yours? What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Merry and Bright by Debbie Macomber

"Parfumerie". "The Shop Around the Corner". "In the Good Old Summertime". "She Loves Me.""You've Got Mail." If you recognize any of those, you know the theme of Debbie Macomber's latest Christmas novel, Merry and Bright. A man and a woman who don't like each other are corresponding and fall in love through their notes. Then one of them finds out who the other one is.

Merry Knight is a temp at Matterson Consulting in Seattle. Her job is just for one year as the company works on a project for Boeing. But, Merry needs the job to pay for her final year of college. Her father is a salesman, and the family has medical expenses. Merry's mother has multiple sclerosis, and her brother, Patrick, has Down's Syndrome. Merry's putting in all the overtime that's needed, but her mother and Patrick think she needs a personal life. And, they sign her up for an online dating service, Mix & Mingle.

Jayson Bright is in line to take over his uncle's business if the current project at Matterson goes right. He's putting in long hours, thinking only of success. Then, his cousin, his best friend calls, and says he fell in love with a girl they both knew in camp, and he found her again on a site called Mix & Mingle. Cooper sounds so happy that Jayson takes the time to fill out the site's questionnaire. And, when he finds a woman's profile with the picture of a golden retriever, he posts the picture of his childhood dog.

I'm sure you see where this is heading, with a title called Merry and Bright. While Merry and her family love the Christmas season, her boss at Matterson is a curmudgeon, a stickler for all the rules, such as no eating at your desk, and no Christmas decorations. Thank heavens Merry has evenings to look forward to with her conversations with Jay.

It's a simple formula. Man and woman hate each other in person, fall in love with their words, are shocked to discover who they really are, and, ultimately, realize they love each other. That's not a spoiler if you've seen any of the films or plays mentioned earlier. But, Christmas stories often have that same formula. And, because Merry and Bright will probably end up on the Hallmark Channel, that formula works for the book and television. The formula has worked since 1937 and "Parfumerie". Why not now?

Debbie Macomber's website is www.debbiemacomber.com

Merry and Bright by Debbie Macomber. Ballantine Books. 2017. ISBN 9790399181221 (hardcover), 247p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Wiley Cash's Message to Librarians

I know some of you are probably a little impatient that I haven't reviewed books in the past few days on my blog. I've been on deadline, and once I'm past Wednesday, I'll have reviews again on the weekend. And, all those books I'm reading for deadline? Reviews will appear here in December and January.

In the meantime, I want to share a video with you. Wiley Cash is the author of the new book The Last Ballad. Here's the summary as it appears on The Poisoned Pen's website. (I'm also the blogger for that bookstore.)

“Wiley Cash reveals the dignity and humanity of people asking for a fair shot in an unfair world.”

- Christina Baker Kline, author of A Piece of the World and Orphan Train

The New York Times bestselling author of the celebrated A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy returns with this eagerly awaited new novel, set in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in 1929 and inspired by actual events. The chronicle of an ordinary woman’s struggle for dignity and her rights in a textile mill, The Last Ballad is a moving tale of courage in the face of oppression and injustice, with the emotional power of Ron Rash’s Serena, Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, and the unforgettable films Norma Rae and Silkwood.

Twelve times a week, twenty-eight-year-old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners—the newly arrived Goldberg brothers—white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and other workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband, John, has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever work she can find.

When the union leaflets begin circulating, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement—a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town—indeed all that she loves.

Seventy-five years later, Ella May’s daughter Lilly, now an elderly woman, tells her nephew about his grandmother and the events that transformed their family. Illuminating the most painful corners of their history, she reveals, for the first time, the tragedy that befell Ella May after that fateful union meeting in 1929.

Intertwining myriad voices, Wiley Cash brings to life the heartbreak and bravery of the now forgotten struggle of the labor movement in early twentieth-century America—and pays tribute to the thousands of heroic women and men who risked their lives to win basic rights for all workers. Lyrical, heartbreaking, and haunting, this eloquent novel confirms Wiley Cash’s place among our nation’s finest writers.

I'm actually not plugging the book, though. What I want to share is Wiley Cash's message to librarians. Even if you aren't a librarian, you might want to listen to what he has to say about the role of libraries in his life. It made me tear up. Thank you, Wiley Cash.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Have You Heard? - Charlaine Harris' Dead to the World

There's no better time than October to discuss Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire books. Thanks to Sandie Herron, there's a review of the fourth audio book in the series, Dead to the World.

Dead to the World: Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery #4DEAD TO THE WORLD
Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery Book 4
Written By Charlaine Harris
Narrated by Johanna Parker
Unabridged Audiobook
Listening Length: 10 hours
Publisher: Recorded Books (Dec 15, 2008)

Sookie Stackhouse is getting to know every type of supernatural being in the tiny town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. The “Supes” know Sookie is telepathic. Sookie considers reading minds a disability. It’s been difficult to find boyfriends when she always knows what they’re thinking. When vampires were proclaimed legal citizens three years ago, Sookie found vampire Bill Compton whose mind she could not read. She was a virgin until she met Bill, and oh my, what he taught her about sex.

In Sookie’s job as waitress at Merlotte’s Bar and Grill, she is mostly able to shield her mind from the cacophony of thoughts that swirl around her. However, this New Year’s Eve is different. Her ex-boyfriend Bill Compton is off to Peru to continue compiling a directory of vampires. Sookie is driving home following New Year’s celebrations, when she sees a partially naked man running for his life. When she stops to help him, she realizes that it is Eric, Bill’s boss in the hierarchy of vampires. Sookie has a love/hate relationship with Eric, but he doesn’t know who she is, or who he is for that matter.

Sookie calms Eric and takes him to her home where she calls Fangtasia, the vampire bar that Eric owns, to speak to Pam, his second in command. When Pam arrives at Sookie’s home the next day after dark, Pam tells her of an evil coven of witches who approached Eric and demanded money to not destroy his world. Hallow, the head witch, took a shine to Eric and offered a deal:  rather than a portion of the bar’s worth, Eric could spend several nights with her. Eric refused. When others tried to remove Hallow, Eric suddenly disappeared. Until this coven is found and the spell undone, all involved decide that the safest place for Eric is to remain with Sookie, especially since the witches have posted “wanted” posters to find Eric all over town.

The next day Sookie’s brother Jason doesn’t show up for work. With no other family than Jason, Sookie is lost for whom to turn to. She visits a fellow waitress who is a Wiccan who tells her Hallow called all the local witches together recently. She visits Jason’s last date, who is a shifter from Hotshot, and whose father takes a shine to Sookie. She visits Alcide, a werewolf she helped with a problem a short while back. She turns to the police. Even Sam, Sookie’s boss, a shifter himself, joins the various beings searching for Jason, protecting Eric, and finding and hopefully eradicating Hallow’s coven. Then the powers of the were-witches who drank vampire blood were revealed. Just when I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the supernatural beings, we learn about a fairy that saves Sookie’s life. The vampires lust after the fairy; the werewolves don’t really care for vampires, and Sookie is just dead tired and worried.

In the end, all’s well that ends well, but the ride there was twisted beyond my imagination. Sookie is the character that holds the entire story together with her very humanity among the witches, vampires, werewolves, shifters, and even the fairy. Her morality keeps the story centered and real so that it doesn’t whirl off into an incredulous fantasy.  Narrator Johanna Parker has skillfully brought us this far, but what will happen when the next full moon rises?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Have You Heard? Charlaine Harris' Club Dead

I'm always grateful that Sandie Herron took the time to review a selection of audio books. Today, Have You Heard? features the third Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire mystery, Club Dead. Thank you, Sandie.

5212033Club Dead
Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery Book 3
Written by Charlaine Harris
Narrated by Johanna Parker
Unabridged Audiobook
Listening Time: 8 hours and 24 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books (9/24/08)
Originally published by Ace as a PBO on 4/29/03

Sookie Stackhouse is a telepath in love with a vampire which works especially well because Sookie can’t “read” vampires. Sookie works for a shape shifter at Merlotte’s Bar & Grill in Bon Temps, Louisiana. This is billed as a “Southern Vampire Mystery” which really is a very accurate description although I’d sure throw a dash of romance into the mix liberally sprinkled with erotic scenes as well as humor. It may all sound over the top, but in Charlaine Harris’s capable hands, it’s an alluring mix.

Lately Bill, the vampire, has been spending inordinate amounts of time in front of his computer, and Sookie is missing the great intimacy they once shared. Suddenly Bill tells her that he must take a secret trip to Seattle on behalf of the queen of Louisiana without his direct superior, Eric, the sheriff of Area 5, knowing about it. Sookie has no choice but to go on with life as usual until a very uncouth werewolf shows up at the bar and tries to kill her. When Eric shows up to protect her, she is told that Bill never went to Seattle but met up with an old girlfriend, and Bill has now been kidnapped in Mississippi. Eric enlists Sookie and her telepathic abilities to go to Mississippi to see what information she can gather from the humans who hang out with local vampires and “supes” at Club Dead. While there she is escorted by stunning werewolf Alcide Herveaux.

While all this may sound farfetched, Charlaine Harris has a way of making it all seem quite plausible. Explanations are given on qualities of the supernatural, and human Sookie even reacts with laughter at hearing of the vampire kingdoms into which America is divided. She learns more about shape shifters and “weres” from her new companion right along with us. She’s lived such a protected life in a small town where she stays away from all the input from other people. Now she’s involved with all sorts of magical beings and realizes that they are individuals, too, although oftentimes with a different set of morals.

When Sookie shares with her werewolf companion Alcide what she’s learned, he says: “You seem like the most regular person I ever met, and it’s hard to remember you’ve got all this extra stuff.” Sookie keeps her wits and humor intact. In the middle of trying to find Bill, she shares, “I had never supposed that our romance would go smoothly. It was an interspecies relationship, after all. And Bill was a lot older than me. But this aching chasm I felt now that he was gone – that, I hadn’t ever imagined.”

Sookie comes to realize that she is involved with these extraordinary worlds whether Bill returns home or not because the vampires know of her telepathic abilities and will go to great lengths to obtain her services. Yet it is wise to remember how rebellious and resourceful Sookie can be.

I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery of Bill’s kidnapping, the romance of Bill and Sookie, the Southern values and locales, the erotic overtones, the supernatural worlds mixing with the human world and with each other.  It is a delightful merging of different cultures to create a broader view of life in a believable way.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bones to Pick by Linda Lovely

When a vegan moves to a goat farm, and a pig discovers bones, it makes for a fun mystery. Check out Linda Lovely's first Brie Hooker mystery, Bones to Pick.

Brie Hooker is a vegan, now in meat country, Ardon County, South Carolina. After her Aunt Lilly's death, Brie is at her Aunt Eva's farm, the Udderly Kidding Dairy, to help her tend 400 goats, make cheese and gather eggs. Brie blames everything that happens on Tammy the pig. She's the one who dug up bones that Eva suspects may belong to her abusive husband, Jed Watson, who disappeared forty years earlier. Eva wasn't prepared for "Finding a corpse on her property the same day she bid her twin goodbye."

And, no one in the family is prepared for Eva to be arrested for Jed's murder. But, the dead man was related to the sheriff and what seems like half the residents of Ardon County. And, those relatives have blamed Eva for years, suspecting she killed Jed and stole the family property. Brie's mother, an attorney, does her best for Eva. But, with the sheriff convinced Eva's a killer, he's not going to investigate any further.

Brie hooks up with an old friend, Mollye, and two hunks to investigate. David Painter, Paint, is the owner of Magic Moonshine. His best friend, Andy, is the local vet. And, the four of them are musketeers willing to do almost anything to find the true killer. Death threats, an outrageous pedicure, another murder, and a biker bar are just a few of the escapades.

I loved the outrageous adventures and the characters in Lovely's Bones to Pick. Normally, I object when the amateur sleuth has two men on the string. But, as best friends, Andy and Paint are competitive, and Eva's comments only make the situation funner. This amusing book will make you smile. It's an entertaining way to kick off a new series.

Linda Lovely's website is www.lindalovely.com

Bones to Pick by Linda Lovely. Henery Press. 2017. ISBN 9781635112627 (hardcover), 266p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Friday, October 20, 2017

J.T. Bishop, Guest Author

If you're looking for this week's contest, please look at the previous post. I also posted that today.

Today, I want to welcome Judy Bishop. Born and raised in Dallas, TX, J. T. Bishop began writing in 2012. Inspired by a video that theorized the meaning of the end of the Mayan calendar, J. T. began the Red-Line trilogy. The video surmised that the earth was the central hub of activity for extraterrestrials thousands of years ago. J.T. didn’t know whether that was true or not, but it did spawn an idea. What if those extraterrestrials were still here? Two years and a lot of work later, the first three Red-Line books were complete, but she’s not done. The Red-Line saga develops as she continues to write new books.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jtbishopauthor
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/judybishop99?trk=hp-identity-name

Under J.T. Bishop, she's the author of  High Child. Here's the summary of the book. "Gifted with unique abilities, Royce Fletcher struggles to find his place in the world. Living a solitary life in the woods, he finds his quiet existence disrupted by unexpected visitors. Visitors he would prefer to avoid.

Despite his attempts to protect himself, Royce finds himself caught up in an unexpected romance, a local murder investigation, and a destiny he has little interest in pursuing.

The more he tries to pull away, the more drawn in he becomes, until he must face the demons that refuse to go away. Demons that risk more than just his life, but all that he holds dear.

Following the events in J.T. Bishop's fourth book, Curse Breaker, High Child is a fast-paced, page-turning, suspense story that will keep readers guessing until the end."

Thank you, J.T., for taking time to write a piece for the blog.

My Favorite Thing about Writing

What do I love about writing? Most of the time when people learn I’m a writer or they read one of my books, the next question is usually “How do you do that?” or “How do you come up with your ideas?” And the next thing they say is “I could never do that.” And my next thought is usually, “you could if you wanted to.” But most people don’t want to. They’d rather read the story after it’s done. Understandable, of course. Writing a book with a variety of characters, a complicated plot and subplots, that keeps a reader turning the pages is challenging at best. So what do I love about it? What brings me back story after story?
The creative side is the big draw. I like coming up with intriguing story lines, relatable characters, fast-paced drama and gut wrenching emotion. It gets my heart racing. My sole purpose is to grab that reader and pull them into my story and keep them there to the bitter end, putting them through all the ups and downs right along with my characters. Once I have a story in my head, it begs to be written, and then the fun begins. Putting it into words is its own challenge. The ebb and flow of writing is special to me. I love the feel of it when I get a special scene to flow perfectly, or when the exact right words I need flow from a character’s mouth onto the page. And I know, I just know, how that will affect the reader just the way I want it to. It will elicit the emotion that I want and grip the reader by the gut, pulling them into the character’s world as if they were there themselves. There is no greater thrill for me when I get it right and I can feel that pull myself. I’m drawn in just like everyone else. I cry, laugh, and gasp just like the reader, and when that happens, I know I’ve succeeded. If I’m not having fun writing, then I know my reader won’t have fun reading. That’s the bottom line for me.
I guess that’s why it’s so easy for me. Since my youth, I’ve loved being drawn into stories, whether it’s a book, or a movie, or a TV show. If you can make me care about the story and its people, make me root for the underdog, shudder at a first kiss, or hate the bad guy and love the good guy, you’ve got me and I’ll hang with you till the end. That’s what I want for my readers. If they’re not doing the same, then what’s the point? Life is hard enough with all that’s going on in the world, so if I can be the one that can help you escape from all of that for just a little while, then I’ve accomplished my goals and that makes all the difference. That’s what I love about writing and why I’ll keep doing it until the words run out.

Winners & A Halloween Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. John S. from Iowa City, IA will receive David Handler's The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes. Julia H. of Excelsior, MN won Ziskin's Cast the First Stone. The books will go out today.

This week, I'm giving away cozy mysteries related to Halloween. Diane Vallere's Masking for Trouble is a Costume Shop Mystery. "Halloween conjures up big business for Margo Tamblyn's costume shop, Disguise DeLimit", but this year there's also trouble. A venture capitalist plans to rezone the historic downtown into a glitzy commercial area and push out local businesses. Margo is determined to save her family's store, but when the tycoon's body is found during a spooky party, Margo tops the suspect list.

Heather Blake's The Witch and the Dead is a Wishcraft Mystery. Wish-granting witch Day Merriweather is moving out of her Aunt Ve's house. While going through her belongings that are stashed in Aunt Ve's garage, a pile of old bones is found. Because those bones belong to Ve's long missing second husband, Darcy has to unpack old secrets to solve the cold case.

Which Halloween mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read either "Win Masking for Trouble" or "Win The Witch and the Dead." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, October 26 at 5 PM ET.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

What Are You Reading?

My confession is that I'm not reading much. I need to get into one of the books I'm reviewing for a journal, but after all of my travels, I just can't settle into anything. The cats are needy. I've been talking to family and friends on the phone. I can't get into a book.

But, several of you went to Bouchercon. What books did you bring back that excite you? And, for the rest of you, what are you reading? I hope you found something this last week that you're excited to share. Let us know, please.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Tale of Two Kitties by Sofie Kelly

Everyone who knows me knows I love cats. And, I frequently read mysteries involving cats. But, I'm not a pushover for every book about cats, especially magical cats. I've always been a little skeptical about Sofie Kelly's Magical Cats Mysteries. Yes, I can suspend disbelief. But, magical cats solving a mystery? I have to admit Kelly's A Tale of Two Kitties is an excellent mystery with likeable characters. I'm now fully on board with this series.

Minnesota librarian Kathleen Paulson doesn't know the story of the Janes family. Victor Janes hasn't returned to Mayville Heights since he ran off with his brother, Leo's wife. Once she died in a car accident, he wasn't welcome in town. But, Leo has invited his brother back, despite the wishes of his son, Simon, and granddaughter, Mia. Leo's hoping for a reconciliation.

All wishes for a family reconciliation are destroyed when Kathleen and Mia find Leo dead. Although Victor would seem to be the natural suspect, it's Kathleen's friend, Simon, who tops the list. It seems he had an argument with his father. Kathleen may have to team up with her two cats, Owen and Hercules, to find the truth.

Kelly's latest mystery is actually a story about families, small town history, and secrets. It's well-written. And, it actually avoids one of my biggest problems with cozy mysteries, the woman who can't make up her mind between two men. Kathleen Paulson does have two men interested in her, but she knows how good her current relationship is, and she intends to keep it that way. I appreciate a practical, loyal amateur sleuth.

Do yourself a favor. Don't be as stubborn as I was. Give Sofie Kelly's Owen and Hercules a chance to prove they belong in her mystery series. Cozy mystery readers won't regret trying A Tale of Two Kitties.

Sofie Kelly's website is www.sofiekelly.com

A Tale of Two Kitties by Sofie Kelly. Berkley Prime Crime. 2017. ISBN 9780399584572 (hardcover), 336p.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

Welcome to 221b, one of the most recognizable addresses in literature. In her debut mystery, Michelle Birkby takes readers behind the scenes of the lower part of that house. Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock Holmes' landlady, and Dr. Watson's wife, Mary, become amateur sleuths in the atmospheric, fascinating story, The House at Baker Street.

When Sherlock Holmes turns down a case, Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson intercept a meek and quivering woman, knowing she needs help. Laura Shirley has received a threatening letter. Someone knows about the letters she once wrote to her first love, and that person has suggested that everything can be revealed and Mrs. Shirley's life will be ruined. The two women offer to take on the case, saying a woman's touch is needed. When they enlist the help of the Baker Street Irregulars, the street urchins who work for Sherlock Holmes, they discover Laura Shirley isn't the only one threatened. When an Irregular is injured and a suspect almost killed, Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson know they're in the middle of a dangerous adventure.

Despite the danger, the two women keep their investigation a secret from Holmes and Watson. In the course of their research, they learn the villain has threatened or caused the death of a number of people, at all levels of society. But, it's a break in, with the help of Irene Adler, that starts to lead them to the truth. And, even then, have they really uncovered the true mastermind?

Mrs. Hudson is a wonderful narrator for this new series. She's a strong woman who has always been behind the scenes, while knowledgeable about the actions of her tenant. Now, she reveals her own longing for adventure, along with her intelligence and ability to puzzle out the clues. And, she's shown as a woman who truly cares for lost souls, from Wiggins and Billy of the Baker Street Irregulars to her new client to Holmes himself.

Michelle Birkby has remained faithful to the spirit and atmosphere of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. However, she has taken the characters, and brought a new spirit and life to them in her outstanding debut, The House at Baker Street.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby. Harper Perennial. 2017. ISBN 978006268018 (paperback), 368p.

NOTE: According to my editor at LJ, the publisher is not releasing this book. I don't know what to say. It is available in England. Try Book Depository if you want to read it.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Congratulations to the Award Winners

Congratulations to all the winners of mystery awards that were presented this past week at Bouchercon. But, Louise Penny deserves an extra congratulations. She swept Best Novel with A Great Reckoning, taking all three mystery awards, the Anthony, the Macavity, and the Barry Awards.

Here are this year's winners.

Best Novel 
• A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best First Novel 
• IQ, by Joe Ide (Mulholland Books)

Best Short Story 
• “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, Wildside Press)

Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Novel 
• Heart of Stone, by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street Books)

Best Nonfiction 
• Sara Paretsky: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction, Margaret Kinsman (McFarland)

The Barry Award Winners

Best Novel:
• A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best First Novel:
• The Drifter, by Nicholas Petrie (Putnam)

Best Paperback Original:
• Rain Dogs, by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street)

Best Thriller:
• Guilty Minds, by Joseph Finder (Dutton)

The Anthony Award Winners

Best Novel
A Great Reckoning – Louise Penny [Minotaur]

Best First Novel
IQ – Joe Ide [Mulholland]

Best Paperback Original

Heart of Stone – James W. Ziskin [Seventh Street]

Best Short Story 
"Oxford Girl" – Megan Abbott, Mississippi Noir [Akashic]

Best Critical Nonfiction Work
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life – Ruth Franklin [Liveright]

Best Children’s/YA Novel
The Girl I Used to Be – April Henry [Henry Holt]

Best Anthology
Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 – Greg Herren, ed. [Down & Out]

Best Novella (8,000-40,000 words)
The Last Blue Glass – B.K. Stevens, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, April 2016 [Dell]

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Witches' Tree by M. C. Beaton

I'm a latecomer to M. C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin series. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of a character who is man-hungry and doesn't feel as if she's complete without a man in her life. I've read and reviewed the books when there has been an anniversary, or, in this case, when sent the book for review. But, it's hard not to feel sorry for Agatha in The Witches' Tree.

Fans of cozy mysteries should find the opening scene in The Witches' Tree to be spot-on, and funny. Sir Edward Chumble is a newcomer to the Cotswolds, and he's moved there, hoping to be lord of the manor, living in an Agatha Christie novel. He throws a dinner part and invites a vicar and his wife, an elderly judge, a married couple, and a friend of his wife's. When the party falls flat, the vicar and his wife, Molly, leave early, only to discover a body hanging from the witches' tree in their village. Agatha Raisin only has a slight interest, but when another body is found, she encourages Sir Edward to hire her to find the killer because the police have failed.

Agatha isn't the most popular person with the police. "She solved cases by bumbling about, often putting herself and everyone else in danger, and then getting to the right conclusion by a flash of intuition." That's an accurate summary. While Agatha bumbles about, investigating local witches, she's also spending her time bemoaning the lack of a man who loves her.

Agatha does have men in her life who love her, in their fashion. Her ex-husband is often available to help with her cases, as is her occasional lover, Sir Charles Fraith, who is always looking for a woman with money. But, Agatha is actually a lonely, pathetic figure. It's hard to feel sorry for her at times, but, it's also hard not to feel for her in her loneliness and neediness.

I didn't exactly summarize the mystery, did I? It's a typical village mystery in which several people are killed, and the sleuth does bumble into the solution after being attacked and rescued. There's nothing extraordinary about The Witches' Tree. It's for those readers who appreciate Agatha Raisin.

M. C. Beaton's website is www.mcbeaton.com

The Witches' Tree by M.C. Beaton. Minotaur Books. 2017. ISBN 9781250057464 (hardcover), 288p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Last Day in Paris, Friday, Sept. 29

On Friday, our last day in Paris before we all headed out, we had a tour scheduled again. Because the tours started across from Le Carrousel, we were all able to meet up with our favorite waiter again. Hugs! This time, there was a photographic record of my hug. So there, Vickie Smith!

We were heading to Giverny first, the small village in Normandy, in northern France, where Monet had his house and gardens. Stunning. Just stunning. So many photos to share. And, they don't need captions.

The inside of Monet's house was as beautiful as the outside. (I did take the "Fresh Eggs" photo for my sister and niece.)

Monet's studio

Monet's bedroom

View from Monet's bedroom

Dining room


Once we left the house and the gift shop, we had a short time to wander the streets of Giverny. Naturally, I found a cat of Giverny.


Giverny was almost as colorful as Monet's property. It's too bad we didn't have a little bit more time there. But, we headed to Fourges in Normandy for lunch, a pleasant, quiet place.

Look at that sky!

It's good that we had the break at Fourges. Then, there are a few photos of Normandy on our way to the over-the-top Versailles. Like Kaye with Shakespeare & Co., I wouldn't have felt as if I'd done enough if I hadn't seen Versailles. But, once is enough. Giverny on the other hand, is worth another trip.

It's a little obvious when we arrived at Versailles. Crowded. Gaudy. Over-the-top excessive. It's no wonder the peasants revolted.

We spent our last night in Paris wandering around in our neighborhood, and eating at a neighborhood cafe. Really? We spent our last night together in friendship and laughter.

Can you believe the size of those meringues?

Vickie and Kaye

On Saturday morning, Kaye and I headed to the airport while Vickie and Lisa headed to the train station to go to Amsterdam. And, our cars came so quickly we barely had time for hugs. For me, the trip was all about the people I went with, and the food we shared. Sharing meals and laughter brings people together. I'll always be grateful for the time I spent with Kaye Wilkinson Barley, Vickie Smith and Lisa Aiken Butler. As Kaye continues to say, "We'll always have Paris."

And, if you want to see some stunning photos, check out Kaye's blog at www.meanderingsandmuses.com.