Thursday, November 30, 2017

What Are You Reading?

What are you reading this week? In between college basketball and football games, I'm reading Man Found Dead in Park, an illustrated novella written by Margaret Coel and illustrated by Phil Parks. I couldn't even find a photo online, so the poor photo you're looking at is one I took. Ann Hillerman wrote the introduction. Keith McCafferty did the Afterword, and Craig Johnson wrote the jacket copy. Parks' illustrations are sketches, including ones of Coel's characters. She brings together her attorney, Vicky Holden, and her investigative reporter, Catherine McLeod.

Before I ask you what you're reading this week, I have a question for those of you who regularly respond to "What Are You Reading"? Would you like to write a guest post about your favorites of 2017? If so, would you like to do it before the end of the year, or early in January? It will be your choice. I am limiting those posts to those of you who read this regularly and respond on Thursdays. If I don't recognize your name, I'm sorry. I won't include a guest post. If you're a regular reader and answer, and would like to write a post, you can respond today and say yes, or I'll think about it, when you mention what you're reading. I'll take care of jacket covers. You'd only have to write the post. My email is no secret. It's available on the blog, so, if you say yes, you can email me at for more details.

Back to the real subject here. What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Q & A with Lawrence Kelter

Lawrence Kelter is the author of a surprising sequel. Back to Brooklyn is the sequel to a movie, "My
Cousin Vinny". He's going to tell you how that all came about.

Novelist Lawrence Kelter chats about writing BACK TO BROOKLYN, the literary sequel to Dale Launer's 
classic legal comedy film My Cousin Vinny

How did the chance to write BACK TO BROOKLYN come about?

Lawrence Kelter: There was one specific project I always wanted to be involved in, but like the rock star dream and the Super Bowl victory, I thought it was not to be. You might think this silly or lame. And maybe it is. There was a film I enjoyed so much that every time it popped up on TV, it made me late for an appointment because I just couldn’t pull myself away. I knew the script verbatim and often incorporated the better-known lines into my everyday conversation. That movie is My Cousin Vinny.

It popped up on the tube about two years ago, and I decided to email the screenwriter/producer to tell him how much I loved his film, thinking, Hollywood screenwriter—I’m dirt beneath his boot—He’ll never reply.

But he did.

And somehow we forged a connection. Emails led to conversations. He discussed his upcoming projects with me, and I with him. One day he called up and said, “Hey, I read one of your books and you’re pretty f_ _king funny.”

“So how about you let me turn My Cousin Vinny into a book series?”

“Make me an offer.”

Four attorneys and fourteen months later, BACK TO BROOKLYN was delivered to Eric Campbell, publisher of Down & Out Books.

What was the most rewarding part of writing established characters like Lisa and Vincent? The most challenging part?

Lawrence Kelter: Writing BACK TO BROOKLYN was the most fun I’ve ever had sitting in front of a keyboard. I have high hopes for this book. After all, I love the characters and the backstory—not to mention the two years I have invested in the project. But where it goes from here… I've received a great deal of feedback from readers. Almost universally they tell me that that they can hear Lisa and Vinny in their heads playing that cat and mouse game--they visualize Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci as they're reading. Nothing could be more rewarding than that.

At the onset there were two big challenges that gave me pause. 1) I had to get the voices just right--my Vinny and Lisa had to sound exactly like Vinny and Lisa from the film with the same type of smart Alec rhetoric and the same colloquialisms. They had to think alike and  react alike. In the words of Beechum County DA Jim Trotter III, they had to be, "IDENTICAL!" 2) The movie reveal was just so damn clever and startling that it was a real challenge to develop a plot that felt like the original but was completely different, and at the end ... well, it was a serious undertaking to reveal the true villain and his MO without relying on "magic grits" and "Positraction."

Why should fans of My Cousin Vinny read BACK TO BROOKLYN?

Lawrence Kelter: Fans of the film will instantly fall back in love with Vinny and Lisa and hopefully laugh just as hard as they did the first time they saw the film. In the words of New York Times bestselling author William Landay: "Like visiting with old friends, BACK TO BROOKLYN captures the fun and spontaneity of every lawyer's favorite legal comedy, My Cousin Vinny. As surefooted as a '63 Pontiac with Positraction." 

Have you heard feedback on BACK TO BROOKLYN from the original movie cast?

Lawrence Kelter: Both Ralph Macchio and his wife have both read the novel and reported that they really enjoyed it. I tried to get in touch with Joe and Marisa but was unsuccessful. On a lighter note, Nelson DeMille gave his copy of the book to his mother after he read it and she reported, "Nelson, this guy knows Brooklyn a hell of a lot better than you do!"

What are you working on now? Will we see further adventures with Vinny and Lisa?

Lawrence Kelter: I'm working on four or five new books at once. OMG, it's scary that I can't remember how many books I'm working on. They're all in different states of completion. Next up is (insert drumroll) the novelization of My Cousin Vinny. Why you ask? Because it's bigger, and fresher, with additional scenes, lots of new humor, and sneak peeks into Vinny and Lisa's history that was not revealed in the film. It's due for release in March of next year.

* * *

About BACK TO BROOKLYN (Down & Out Books, May 2017)

“Fans of the movie will enjoy Vinny and Lisa’s further adventures.” —Publishers Weekly

Gambini is back! Hot on the heels of rescuing his cousin Bill and Bill’s friend, Stan from an Alabama electric chair, our wildly inappropriate hero, Vincent Gambini heads home to Brooklyn where he attempts to establish a successful law career. Meanwhile, Lisa aches to have a wedding band placed around her finger and her biological clock is still ticking away like mad. Vinny and Lisa have been together ten long years. She’s waited so very patiently for him to complete law school and pass the bar. Winning his first case was the last piece of the puzzle, and now nothing can stand in the way of true love, except that between them they don’t have two nickels to rub together, and Vinny is about as romantic as a box of frogs.

In the course of building his practice, Vinny is reunited with Joe, his walking, talking embarrassment of a brother, Lisa’s nudging parents, Ma and Augie, and his dear old friend Judge Henry Molloy, who refers him the mother of all capital murder cases.

Theresa Cototi is young and pretty but far from innocent, and darn her luck … her boyfriend has just been scraped off the pavement after taking a header from eight- stories up. You’d better believe she’s going to trial, charged with murder one.

Aided by Lisa and a ragtag team of misfits, Vinny defends his client against overwhelming odds. Our endearing neophyte attorney must match wits with a cunning DA and a formidable influence peddler, who appears to anticipate his every move. In the balance hangs the life of a woman he believes to be innocent. Or is she?

Yes, Vinny may have finally won his first case but his and Lisa’s story is far from over.

About the author
Lawrence Kelter never expected to be a writer. In fact, he was voted the student least likely to step foot in a library. Well, times change, and he has now authored several novels including the internationally bestselling Stephanie Chalice and Chloe Mather Thriller Series.

He’s lived in the Metro New York area most of his life and relies primarily on familiar locales for story settings. He does his best to make each novel quickly paced and crammed full of twists, turns, and laughs.

Find Lawrence Kelter online …

Amazon Author Page:
Goodreads Author Page:

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Death Comes to the School by Catherine Lloyd

Fans of old-fashioned mysteries, or stories that remind you of Georgette Heyer or Jane Austen, may appreciate this fifth book in the Kurland St. Mary Mystery series. .Death Comes to the School by Catherine Lloyd is a quiet story involving class differences and role differences for boys and girls.

Three years after the events of Death Comes to the Fair, Major Sir Robert Kurland and Lucy Harrington are married, but their marriage has some problems. While he is patient and understanding, Lucy suffers from poor health and anger after a series of miscarriages. However, Lucy is interested in the state of the school she and Robert established for the local children in their small village of Kurland St. Mary. When she hears that some of the children have not been treated well by the teacher, she confronts her. But, someone else is unhappy with Miss Broomfield. It's not a pretty sight when Robert visits the school to talk to her, only to have an upset student report she found the teacher murdered. 

There are so many reasons to suspect the teacher of stirring up trouble in the village. Lucy, along with some of the other women, have received venomous notes. Some of the parents have not been happy with Miss Broomfield's treatment of their children. And, when Lucy finds valuable jewels hidden in the teacher's rooms, she suspects theft. While Lucy asks questions of the women in the community, Major Sir Robert takes his role as local magistrate seriously, questioning local residents. It's unfortunate that it takes a murder investigation to bring Lucy and Robert back together.

Lloyd's portrayal of the characters in Death Comes to the School is excellent. Kurland's servants, as well as the villagers, are well-drawn and not forgotten in this Regency mystery. In fact, in many cases, they come across so much better than the higher class characters. The mystery is intriguing. However, the relationship between Lucy and Robert will bring readers back to the series, even more than the mystery itself. It's a solid, well-written portrayal in a quiet mystery.

Catherine Lloyd's website is

Death Comes to the School by Catherine Lloyd. Kensington Books. 2017. ISBN 9781496702081 (hardcover), 288p.

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

December's Cozy Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime

Although Jinx showed up early for the book chat, it's Josh's tail you'll see in the video. Enjoy the book chat from Jinx, Josh and me.

This month's featured books are:

Egg Drop Dead by Laura Childs - 7th Cackleberry Club Mystery (1st time in paperback)
Hark the Herald Angels Slay by Vicki Delany - 3rd Year-Round Christmas Mystery
A Crime of Poison by Nancy Haddock - 3rd Silver Six Crafting Mystery
Honey-Baked Homicide by Gayle Leeson - 3rd Down South Cafe Mystery
Comic Sans Murder by Paige Shelton - 3rd Dangerous Type Mystery
Live and Let Fly by Clover Tate - 2nd Kite Shop Mystery

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Have You Heard? - Charlaine Harris' Definitely Dead

While I'm reading January releases this weekend, I can share one of Sandie Herron's reviews of an audio book. Here's her review of Charlaine Harris' Definitely Dead. Dead
Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery Book 6
Written by Charlaine Harris
Narrated by Johanna Parker
Unabridged Audiobook
Listening Length: 10 hours and 34 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books (May 8, 2006)

Sookie Stackhouse is a barmaid at Merlotte’s Bar and Grill in Bon Temps, Louisiana.  She happens to be telepathic which until recently she considered a disability. Now she has learned to harness this skill in dealing with many supernatural creatures that have become known to her following the “Great Awakening” of the vampires.  Sookie met were-tiger Quinn at the recent werewolf packmaster contest.  Now he was back to deliver a summons from Louisiana’s vampire queen to attend the upcoming vampire summit and to ask her on a date.

Sookie finds herself helping many “supes.”  Her brother Jason’s girlfriend Crystal, a were-panther, has just had a miscarriage, so Sookie arranges for Dr. Ludwig to see her.  Werewolf Alcide’s ex-girlfriend Debbie Pelt, still missing following the night of the Witch War, as the vampires were calling it, continues to plague Sookie.  Now her parents and sister were at Merlotte’s looking for clues to find her.  A child goes missing from the elementary school, and Sookie cannot stay away when her telepathic skills might help find the child.  Sookie is happy to be distracted from the problems around her to learn of the upcoming double wedding of Detective Andy Bellefleur and local school teacher Halleigh Robinson as well as Andy’s sister Portia Bellefleur, a prominent lawyer, and her accountant beau.  And then she has a wonderful time at the theatre with Quinn, only to be mugged by werewolves after the show.  Sookie notes that she has “assumed the role of guardian of the weird in my little corner of our state.  I was the poster girl for interspecies tolerance.  … It was kind of neat, knowing stuff that other people didn’t.  But it complicated my already difficult life ….”

Sookie is sad to learn of her cousin Hadley’s death and is surprised that Hadley left her entire estate to Sookie.   Sookie travels to New Orleans where she befriends Hadley’s landlady Amelia, a witch who has placed a stasis spell on her apartment.  Both women are stunned by the rising of a new vampire from Hadley’s place who attacks them both until help sent by the Queen pulls him away.  Needing to know what happened before Hadley died, the Queen employs Amelia and several witches to perform an ectoplasmic reconstruction.  The Queen reveals to Sookie that Hadley, her lover, had taken a wedding gift that she absolutely must have back before the reception planned to celebrate the nuptials.  Heads will roll if the gift is not returned.  

The Sookie Stackhouse novels rival the best soap operas and are written with intricacy and compelling plot lines.  This sixth entry in the series was bulging at the seams with characters working both with and against Sookie.  Plots formed and evaporated throughout the book that the reader might think would spin out of control due to the sheer number of plots and subplots.  Yet author Charlaine Harris is able to pull it all together, amazingly leaving very little left unsaid, undone, or out of place. Sookie saves the day, yet again, returning the world to harmony.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Book Club Babies by Ashton Lee

Ashton Lee wraps up his Cherry Cola Book Club series with the promise of the future for the Cherico Public Library in Cherico, Mississippi. Of course, he's talking about a new generation of library users in Book Club Babies.

Library director Maura Beth McShay is pregnant. So is her sister-in-law, Elise, who is staying with her aunt and uncle in Cherico. Maura Beth's best friend, Periwinkle, owner of The Twinkle restaurant, is also expecting. Because the three women use each other as sounding boards, it inspired Maura Beth to start a support group at the library. It's called Expecting Great Things, and all the members of the book club are invited, as long as they tell entertaining stories about pregnancies. No horror stories.

The three women are perfectly capable of providing their own horror stories. Elise is going to be a single mother who planned her pregnancy, going to a sperm bank. Periwinkle's mother rejects the idea of a grandchild, because she's racist and won't accept that Periwinkle married a black man. Maura Beth's story really isn't horrible. She has to stop her husband, Jeremy, from having all her symptoms. He's using his wife and sister as the basis for a new novel. Writer's block really only stops when he teams up with a fellow teacher to write a different book, one for fathers-to-be. But, the drama in Book Club Babies doesn't end with horror stories.

All along, Ashton Lee's Cherry Cola Book Club books have been about the library as the heart of a community. As library director, Maura Beth struggled in the series. She faced a town council and its leader who did not appreciate the library. She headed a library that was in poor shape, with no parking for patrons. She faced down the council when they wanted to close the library so the money could go elsewhere. Lee's support of public libraries was evident in the series of books, as he introduced a young woman who faced obstacles to get town support for the library, and then support to build a new, modern library. Maura Beth grew in the course of the series, both professionally and personally. She met, fell in love with and married Jeremy, and, by this final book, she and her close friends have all moved on to motherhood. Best of all, though, in the course of this series, she helped a small town build a community.

These books, including the latest one, have gathered the townspeople together at the library. They formed a book club, ate wonderful food, and supported each other through death, marriages, and, now births. Ashton Lee never forgot his aim of showing the importance of libraries in the current world. He understands their role in communities.

Now that there is a new generation to attend story times, read books, use library computers, there's the promise of the future in Book Club Babies. This is the perfect way to end the series. Fans can see what the future might be for favorite characters. This is a satisfying way to conclude the books. But, Lee has one more gift for readers. This book also includes all the recipes that have been in the Cherry Cola Book Club books. He leaves all of us with the gift of food and community. What's any better?

Book Club Babies by Ashton Lee. Kensington Books. 2017. ISBN 9781496705808 (paperback), 272p.

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Winners and a Win the Seasonal Mysteries Before You Can Buy Them Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. The Twelve Dogs of Christmas goes to Trish R. of Decatur, GA. Prentiss G. from Burlington, NC won Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women. The books are going out in the mail today.

I have two mysteries that are released in December to give away this week. I've read them, and the reviews will appear on my blog close to release date. But, I'm giving them to lucky winners now. "Tis the season - for murder" with Maggie McConnon's Bel, Book and Scandal, a Belfast McGrath mystery. Even if you haven't read the earlier books, you can easily catch up with the chef and amateur sleuth who keeps her family in line, her parents and brothers, owners and the band for their Irish-American wedding center. But, Bel's been haunted for years by the disappearance of her best friend, Amy, when they were eighteen. Then, she sees a picture of Amy in a newspaper, and she's determined to uncover the truth.

It's the perfect time of year to give away a Spice Shop Mystery. Ginger Snapped is Gail Oust's latest. Spice shop owner Piper Prescott has finally become friends with Police Chief Wyatt McBride. When a local realtor is found floating in Wyatt's fishing hole, he's suspended from the police force. Too many people saw him having dinner with the victim. But, Piper knows he didn't kill anyone, and she's determined to help her friend.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject lines should read either "Win Bel, Book and Scandal" or "Win Ginger Snapped." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Nov. 30 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

My Thanks - Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Today is my day to give thanks for family and friends. And, I'll start with you, the blog readers who return time after time to read the book reviews or pieces about my travels, and, best of all, to comment and sometimes share what you're reading. So many of you have become friends. I'm grateful that you share my interest in books. Thank you!

I'm so grateful for the gift of my wonderful family, my Mom, my sisters, Linda and Christie, and their families. I'm thankful that we all share a love of laughter, and we enjoy spending time together. I'm glad my mom and my sisters and I plan trips so we can spend a weekend or a few days together. My family means laughter and love to me. I'm so lucky to have them.

I'm thankful for the friends who adopted me, Donna and Terry Seaton. Donna and I could talk books forever. We go to movies and plays together, and analyze them afterwards. After I introduced Donna to Celtic Thunder, she shares my love of them, and of two of the performers, Byrne and Kelly. (Thank you for sharing my addiction, Donna.) And, Terry shares his extraordinary cooking gift, and all that wonderful food, including a week's worth of leftovers. And, today, I'm spending Thanksgiving with Donna, Terry, and some of their family.

I have two friends I talk with almost every day. We talk about books, politics, travel, family, pets. There isn't much I haven't talked about with Kaye Wilkinson Barley and David Chaudoir. I'm so thankful they're in my life. And, I'm grateful we can laugh together, and talk through the rough times.

I have so much to be thankful for - friends, my cats, the opportunity to travel to Paris and New York City, Phoenix and Tucson this year.

And, it wouldn't be my blog if I didn't say how much I love and appreciate books and authors. To the authors - I'm in awe of your creativity and the gifts of your books. Thank you.

I'm guessing if I went back and read all my Thanksgiving posts, they would sound quite similar - family, friends, books, cats, travel, laughter, love. What a wonderful life, wonderful gifts.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. And, for those who are having a rough time this year, I hope you find moments of peace.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What Are You Reading?

It's a day early for "What Are You Reading?", but people are more likely to stop in today than tomorrow. And, I'll direct people to today's post if they do come looking for it on Thanksgiving.

I'm really between right now. I just finished two books for review, but they're January releases, and I'll review them here at that time. I actually have a book I need to find, one that I want to read by the end of the month. So, I really don't have a book to talk about today.

What about you?  Are you reading something, or did you just finish a book? What are you reading or listening to right now? We'd love to know.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Have You Heard? - Charlaine Harris' Dead as a Doornail

I always appreciate it when Sandie Herron allows me to run one of her reviews of an audio book. Since I don't listen to them, it's an added feature for those of you who might be interested in listening rather than, or along with, reading a book. Thanks, Sandie, for the latest "Have You Heard?",204,203,200_.jpgDead as a Doornail
Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery Book 5
Written by Charlaine Harris
Narrated by Johanna Parker
Unabridged Audiobook
Listening Time:  10 hours, 2 minutes
Publisher:  Recorded Books (May 6, 2005)

Sookie Stackhouse works at Merlotte’s Bar & Grill in Bon Temps, Louisiana.  She doesn’t have too many friends, since her ability to read minds tends to keep people away, until she meets vampire Bill Compton, his boss Eric Northman, and their undead community.  Sookie cannot read vampires and her ability to read other “supes” is limited.  

Sookie is leaving work late one evening when a shot rings out and shape-shifter Sam Merlotte falls to the ground.  Since Sam knew of no one who wanted him dead, Sookie begins to wonder if the shooting might be related to shape-shifters.  After all, a were-fox had recently been shot and killed.  Sookie’s suspicions carry more credibility when were-panther Calvin Norris is shot leaving for work.  She is compelled to visit him in the hospital to help pave the way to better relations with those were-panthers who live in neighboring Hotshot.  Sookie’s brother Jason was recently kidnapped and bitten repeatedly by a were-panther jealous of his dating Crystal Norris, which means he may change into a panther at the next full moon.  When Sookie sees Jason’s eyes start to change, she knows he’ll change this full moon and begins to worry that the shooter might go after him.  Calvin has even suggested Jason might be the sniper, since Jason might be bitter over being bitten.

With Sam hobbling on his wounded leg, he asks Sookie to find him help bartending at Merlotte’s.  It wouldn’t hurt if this person could also act as bouncer if things get dicey as they had recently when a very uncouth vampire showed up with Sookie’s friend Tara Thornton.  She turns to Eric, the vampire who runs Fangtasia in Shreveport, and not the werewolves, since they are part of the shape-shifting community.  Eric sends his newest employee, Charles Twining, to help Sam in exchange for room and board and a future favor.  With no place to spend the day, Charles becomes Sookie’s house guest so he can reside in the private space vampire Bill hollowed out beneath her house.  It’s fortunate that Charles is there when Sookie’s home catches fire.  .  

Sookie learns of the death of the werewolf packmaster.  Alcide, the werewolf who had escorted Sookie around Jackson, Mississippi not too long ago, calls her to let her know and to ask her to attend the funeral with him.  Since the funeral is also the beginning of the campaign to choose a new packmaster, Alcide hopes to make a statement by escorting Sookie.  

Things go from bad to worse when the sniper sets his sights on Sookie.  It’s time to stake out parking lots all over town to catch this determined shooter.  By book’s end, Sookie is overwhelmed with requests of and favors owed to so many supernatural beings.  Thankfully, author Charlaine Harris has expertly laid a clear path for Sookie.  The story certainly twisted around many issues and people and many of the communities to which Sookie has become part.  Narrator Johanna Parker lends yet another voice to the many in her repertoire living in and around Bon Temps, Louisiana.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Murder in the Manuscript Room by Con Lehane

Con Lehane brings back two of my favorite characters in his latest mystery, Murder in the Manuscript Room. Of course, I appreciate Raymond Ambler, the troubled librarian at the iconic 42nd Street Library. But, Brian McNulty, the shrewd bartender at the Library Tavern, is also a favorite. And, Ambler needs McNulty's assistance is this tangled investigation.

Raymond Ambler's life is messy. He has an alcoholic ex-wife. His son is in prison for murder. He's fighting for custody of his grandson. And, the court time for the custody battle has delayed his work on a new exhibit at the library, "A Century-and-a-Half of Murder and Mystery in New York City". But, Ray, the library's curator of crime fiction, has counted on his coworker and close friend, Adele Morgan, for assistance. Right now, though, Adele seems to be spending time with a research assistant that Ray doesn't trust, Leila Stone. Leila is abrupt and discourteous when Ray has guests at the library. Mike Cosgrove, a friend, and a NYPD homicide detective, introduces an author who wants to donate his collection of papers. Ray isn't too interested until he learns Higgins is a retired cop who was with the NYPD intelligence forcers for years. But, the collection, and the strings attached, stir up all kinds of trouble.

Leila Stone also stirs up trouble. When an Arab scholar claims Leila was spying on him, Ambler is forced to question Adele's friend. And, then Leila is killed and dumped in Ambler's reading room. Her murder, the intelligence team checking on the Arab scholar, and a story from a childhood friend about a cold case, the murder of a union leader, are all clues for the intelligent librarian. He can't bounce his theories off of Adele because she's on her own quest to help the mysterious scholar. But, McNulty, at Ambler's hangout, the Library Tavern, has time to listen, and has some connections.

This is a weighty story, a complicated one. But, at least for librarians, it has it's lighter moments. I have two favorite quotes in the book. "Most people don't appreciate librarians as much as they should." Then, there's this one. "You've been kidnapped, your apartment broken into, and now shot at. You thought about looking for a less dangerous job than being a librarian?"

Murder in the Manuscript Room is a complex mystery that forces people to ponder their responsibility for others. Ambler, Leila, and Mike Cosgrove, the homicide detective, all have weighty decisions to make. It's pointed out to Raymond, "One is responsible to act when one knows something is wrong, even when it requires courage. You are in the unfortunate position of seeing a wrong others don't see." It's a timely message in a thoughtful book.

Con Lehane's website is

Murder in the Manuscript Room by Con Lehane. Minotaur Books. 2017. ISBN 9781250069993 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden

Cancer is such a pernicious disease. There isn't one of us who hasn't been touched by it, or knows someone who has. Joe Biden's book, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, is the story of the year the Biden family stood with Beau Biden as he fought for his life, battling cancer. But, it's also the story of a year as Vice-President as Joe Biden pushed his schedule to be so full that he could forget for short periods of time what his son was going through.

Beau Biden, Joe's oldest son, survived the car crash that killed his mother and little sister. He survived his service in Iraq. He was in his second term as attorney general for Delaware with ambitious plans to run for governor, and, maybe someday president. In 2014, he and the family learned he had a brain tumor. And, it was glioblastoma, Stage IV, and not curable. But, if anyone was going to fight cancer and win, it was going to be Beau, with his family, especially his brother, Hunter, by his side.

Biden himself juggled his time between trips to various hospitals to be with Beau, and the business of being vice-president. During this period, that meant dealing with problems in the Ukraine, Iraq, and negotiating with Central America. It also meant eulogies at funerals, and visits to troubled cities. Biden admitted he needed to keep busy. And, in this same period of time, he had to weigh his options. Was he going to run for president? If Beau and Hunter had been by his side, the answer would have been yes. When Beau Biden knew he wasn't going to make it, he pulled his father aside. He knew Joe had the ability to sink into darkness. He knew his father needed a purpose in life. "Give me your word, Dad, that you're going to be all right. Promise me, Dad."

This really isn't a book of what if. Joe Biden knew he didn't have the heart to run in 2016 after Beau's death. It isn't a "what if Joe Biden had run for president book". It is a thoughtful, moving book about a year of fighting for survival, physically and emotionally. It was a tearjerker. I started the book with tissues in my pocket, and I needed them.

For some of us readers, it is a book of regret. Joe Biden says, "I have come to believe that the first duty of a public servant is to help bring people together, especially in crisis, especially across different divides to show respect for everybody at the table, and to help find a safe way forward." It's hard to not wish things had been different, for Beau Biden, for the family, for the country.

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose by Joe Biden. Flatiron Books, 2017. ISBN  9781250171672 (hardcover), 260p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Picturing Christmas by Jason F. Wright and Sterling Wright

I'll admit most Christmas books are sweet, perhaps too sweet for many readers. Almost all Christmas novels have happy, satisfying endings. Picturing Christmas by Jason F. Wright and Sterling Wright is no exception. However, this is a book I would only recommend to new adults. The main character, Aubrey, and her preoccupation with her own problems was a little too much for me.

The prologue actually spoils any possible suspense in the novel, showing everything will be just fine, and indicating what's happening with Aubrey. I won't do the same. Instead, I'll start with Aubrey's graduation from college. She's twenty-two, ready to start her new life in New York City as she hopes to eventually work in photography there. But, before she graduated, her parents told her they were getting a divorce.

It's a stubborn, upset Aubrey who heads to New York City where she actually has an unpaid internship, and she's never told her parents she's not getting paid. But, she manages to make it until she's sent to Rockefeller Center to take pictures of the lighting of the tree. Then, she's accosted, and robbed of the company's photography equipment. A kind man finds her and asks to give him $50 for the one lens he was able to buy back. That's her first meeting with the extraordinary "Joel Miller" who has an unusual eye for moments and people who are different in New York.

Despite her new friendship, Aubrey's holiday season isn't what she expected, even when her parents show up. But, New York really hasn't changed Aubrey's cold heart, and she reacts with anger, turning away both her parents. Instead of moving ahead with her life, she lets bitterness and anger cloud her judgment, and spoil her first Christmas in New York.

Picturing Christmas is a Christmas story, though. Despite Aubrey's spoiled, angry attitude, there will be a happy ending. But, this time, Jason F. Wright, author of Christmas Jars, doesn't have the right main character to carry off that happy ending. That's why I'd suggest Picturing Christmas for young adults, struggling with their own first apartments, first job, first time on their own. Most of the rest of us will find Aubrey immature and ungrateful. At least she gains a little wisdom at the end.

Note: I was intrigued, though, by the description of the New York Botanical Gardens' Train Show. I think I'm going to have to make a holiday visit there next year.

Picturing Christmas by Jason F. Wright and Sterling Wright. Sweetwater Books, 2017. ISBN 9781462128617 (paperback), 183p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, November 17, 2017

Winners and More Christmas Mysteries Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. The Usual Santas will go to Rob R. of San Antonio, TX. Martha C. of Scottsdale, AZ will receive How the Finch Stole Christmas. The books are going out in the mail today.

But, wait! I have more Christmas mysteries to give away. Mrs. Jeffries, the quick-witted housemaid of a bumbling British inspector, returns for the holidays in Emily Brightwell's latest Victorian mystery, Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women. Cantankerous Christopher Gilhaney manages to insult every guest at a Bonfire Night dinner party. When he's shot dead under the cover of nighttime fireworks, it seems to be a robbery gone wrong, and everyone begins to deck the halls for the holiday season. Six weeks later, the case isn't solved yet, and a motley crew of servants-turned-detectives set out to solve the mystery and save Christmas.

The cover of The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelt is still one of the cutest book covers I've ever seen. Defense Lawyer Andy Carpenter has a friend, Martha "Pups" Boyer, who takes in stray puppies and raises them until they're old enough to adopt. With Christmas just around the corner, one of Pups' neighbors turns her into the city for having more pets than she should. Andy's eager to defend her. And, then that neighbor ends up dead after Pups threatened him, and even found the body. Now, just before the holidays, Andy has a murder case on his hands.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at To make it easy, your subject heading should read either "Win Brightwell" or "Win Rosenfelt." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, Nov. 23 at 5 PM CT so someone can give thanks that they won.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

What Are You Reading?

It's that time of year. I'm reading Christmas books here and there. I just picked up Jason F. Wright's new book, Picturing Christmas, about a young woman who moves to New York City. That captures two things I love, Christmas and New York. Wright is the author of Christmas Jars. He co-wrote this book with Sterling Wright. I can't say for sure, but, in looking at the photos, I'm guessing Sterling Wright is Jason's father.

So, what are you reading this week? I'm off for the next couple days, so I have extra reading time. Yay! May you find some time for quiet and reading this week. Tell us what book or audio book you're reading, please.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza

Pete Souza took all the photos of then Senator Barack Obama, so it's no surprise he was asked to become the Chief Official White House Photographer. For eight years, he had full access to take pictures of the President. If you pick up Obama: An Intimate Portrait, you'll recognize some of the iconic pictures. Others will seem fresh. For those of us who admired the 44th President of the United States, it's not only an intimate glimpse inside eight years, it's a collection that brings regret.

There are over 300 pictures in the collection with captions and sometimes short comments that tell the story behind the photos. Barack Obama wrote the foreword, and Souza wrote the introduction.  President Obama was correct when he commented about Souza's work. "It's his capacity to capture the mood, the atmosphere, and the meaning of that moment."

Souza does a magnificent job capturing those moments. Most of us remember the photo of the little boy touching the President's hair to see if he had the same hair. Study those pictures of Obama with children. There's so much joy and pleasure on his face. It's almost the same joy as you'll see when he's with his daughters. You can also see the broken expression when he hears and then speaks about the children shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the day he referred to as the worst day of his Presidency.

With any President, there's an awareness of history in the making. But President Obama and Michelle Obama were aware of their positions, the first African-American President and First Lady. Many of those photos represent those historic moments. But, there are also fun photos, such as Paul McCartney singing "Michelle Ma Belle" to the First Lady. Or, that recognizable picture of the President quieting a baby that cried for Michelle.

Admittedly, Souza staged some shots. He wanted the last helicopter shot of the former President as he flew away from Washington. His comment as he looked at the White House? "We used to live there." But, for all of us who admired the last President and his eight years of service to the country, it's bittersweet to notice a detail in one of the pictures. There's a photo of Barack Obama leaving the Oval Office for the last time as President. Each President selects his rug for that room. One of the quotes on President Obama's rug is from Teddy Roosevelt. "The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us."

Pete Souza's Obama: An Intimate Portrait is a gorgeous collection of historic photos. It's the perfect gift for the person who admired President Barack Obama. (Give them a box of tissues with it.)

Pete Souza's website is

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza. Little, Brown & Company. 2017. ISBN 9780316512589 (hardcover), 352p.

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson

I hope those of you who read mystery series take my suggestions seriously. Wendy Tyson's Seeds of Revenge is a fascinating mystery with well-developed characters in a small town. There's a complex, character-driven plot. But, I'd recommend that you start with A Muddied Murder, the first in the series, if you can. The main character, her family and friends, are so interesting in this third book that I wish I had started with the first one.

Megan Sawyer, ex-lawyer turned organic farmer and cafe owner, is on her way back from a business trip to Philadelphia when she comes upon a stranded car. Then she finds the owner, walking through the snow. Megan picks up Becca Fox, not realizing she's bringing trouble into the town of Winsome, PA. Becca is heading to her aunt Merry's house, but when she and Megan arrive, Becca is furious to see her estranged father. She makes no secret that she blames him for her mother's death, and says he killed her.

Megan had left Winsome for college when the Fox family lived for a short time in Winsome. She never knew the troubled family. But, Megan witnesses the end of an argument between her great-aunt Sarah and Paul Fox, Becca's father. When Paul's son finds him dead in their rented house, it quickly becomes apparent that many people in town disliked Paul Fox. And, Megan's great-aunt had an unusual connection to Fox and his death.

There are so many aspects of this book that I like. Megan is a mature, intelligent character, a widow, an ex-lawyer. She has an excellent relationship with the young police chief. "She'd come to respect his abilities and toughness as a new police chief, and he seemed to appreciate her insight." The two work well together, and, in most cases, she keeps him informed in advance of any actions.

Seeds of Revenge involves families, and issues in several families, including Megan's own. Megan aches to make things right for the town she loves. Traditional mysteries, and particularly cozy mysteries, often deal with an imbalance. Something sets off the balance in a small town. Megan has a reason to search for a killer. "And once again there was a sore festering amongst the good people of Winsome."

You can start with the third book in "A Greenhouse Mystery" series, Seeds of Revenge. I suggest, though, that you start with A Muddied Murder.

Wendy Tyson's website is

Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson. Henery Press. 2017. ISBN 9781635112788 (hardcover), 272p.

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Ghost of Christmas Past By Rhys Bowen

There’s an atmosphere of sorrow and foreboding that hangs over Bowen’s latest mystery, The Ghost of Christmas Past. After Molly Murphy Sullivan’s miscarriage and the events during the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco (Time of Fog and Fire), Molly’s still mourning. And, Daniel's job is in jeopardy because of his honesty, and his refusal to cooperate with Tammany Hall.

This Christmas promises to be bittersweet. It looks like Molly's beloved almost-daughter, Bridie, will be moving back to Ireland. And, Molly's best friends won't be home for Christmas. But, just as Molly plans to give up heart, they receive an unexpected invitation. Daniel's mother is visiting the Van Aikens, wealthy friends in Scarborough. They invite the Sullivans to come for Christmas, so Daniel, Molly, Bridie and two-year-old Liam head out of town.

Once they're at the estate, Molly suspects something is wrong. She sympathizes when she learns of the disappearance of the Van Aikens' only child, a toddler, ten years earlier. But, her suspicions are aroused when a young teen appears at the door on Christmas Eve, claiming to be the missing Charlotte. It takes a mystery to turn Molly's emotions around. As Daniel continues to tell her, she just wants to make everything right.

It's been quite a while since I've read one of Bowen's Molly Murphy books, but they remain favorites of my sister's. Readers like me, who have not read one in quite a while, can easily catch the storyline in this haunting and surprising story of Christmas.

Rhys Bowen's website is

The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen. Minotaur Books, 2017. ISBN 9781250125729 (hardcover), 272p.

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit by Chris Matthews

"Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God." - Aeschylus

This was part of Robert Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis when he told the crowd Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated. It was a poem by his favorite poet. Chris Matthews refers to his new biography, Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, as a personal biography. He lets readers know where he was in his life, and his personal beliefs, as well as his parents, at crucial moments in Kennedy's life. He acknowledges there are numerous other books, including two that he says have stood the test of time, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.'s Robert Kennedy and His Times, and Evan Thomas' Robert Kennedy: His Life.

It's always tempting to make a book about the Kennedys personal. Where were you when you heard John F. Kennedy was assassinated? Where were you when you heard Robert Kennedy was assassinated? I was young, only eleven when Robert Kennedy was killed, but my husband, who read everything about the Kennedys, always thought Robert Kennedy would have been a better president, and that Aeschylus quote hung on the wall in his den. He admired him, and everything he stood for. He would have eagerly read Matthews' book.

And, it's worth reading Bobby Kennedy, whether you remember him or not. Matthews chronicles the changes in Kennedy, from the third son, the weak one, who yearned for his father's approval, to the position of a man who wanted justice, and wanted to confront the oppressor, to a man who understood and wanted to help the oppressed. It covers his time as his brother's campaign manager, attorney general, and candidate. But, the book really covers the development of Kennedy's own values and moral code. In Kennedy's own book, The Enemy Within, he concludes with words that defined him. Matthews quotes him, the "toughness and idealism that guided our nation in the past," a "spirit of adventure, a will to fight what is evil, and a desire to serve."

Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit is easy to read because it has Matthews' personal touch. For those of us who only know the legends of the Kennedys, it's a moving account of changing beliefs and the life of a man who changed the country, whose promise of so much more was cut short.

Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit by Christ Matthews. Simon & Schuster. 2017. ISBN 9781501111860 (hardcover), 396p.

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Purple Palette for Murder by R.J. Harlick

If you haven't read R.J. Harlick's previous Meg Harris mysteries, don't worry about it. You can still pick up the vivid, intense eighth book in the series, Purple Palette for Murder. Harris takes readers away to the Canadian wilderness with all of its beauty. She also carefully integrates the stories and tragedies of the Five Nations people. Her setting and  stories are unique. If you have to compare her to someone, you might want to think about Margaret Coel for her mysteries on the Wind River Reservation or C.J. Box' wilderness stories.

Meg Harris has been afraid to go too far from home after the events in A Cold White Fear. She doesn't even accompany her husband, Eric, the newly installed Grand Chief of the Grand Council of First Nations, when he flies to Yellowknife in the Northern Territories to meet with other chiefs and his family. But, she's forced to set aside her fears when she receives a phone call. Eric's in jail, arrested for killing the man who may have attacked his daughter. Teht'aa Bluegoose, Meg's stepdaughter, had been about to start a new job with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Now, she's lying in a hospital bed, beaten half to death, in a coma.

As Meg learns more, she finds her only encouragement comes from the man who once encouraged Eric, "Uncle Joe", Joe Bluegoose. The patriarch of his family is a calm presence in the midst of all the turmoil. While the doctors can't say if Teht'aa will live or have brain activity, Uncle Joe says she'll be fine. When Eric tells his lawyer he'll plead to manslaughter with a sentence of at least three years, Meg and Uncle Joe are convinced he's innocent. And, it may be up to Meg to find answers.

Some of those answers lie with Teht'aa's family, sisters and cousins who are often drunk or picking up men. Do the answers lie with the man who insists he's Teht'aa's boyfriend? A break-in, theft, and a murder convince Meg there's more to this story than Eric knows.

While Harlick is known for her vivid depiction of the Canadian wilderness, and there are beautiful descriptions in this book, it was the family connections and the stories of the people of the First Nations that I found fascinating. The history of the peoples, their storytelling, and their shameful treatment by the white people is an integral part of this mystery. Readers won't easily forget the stories of the residential schools, and the damage they caused.

Purple Palette for Murder, as I said, is a dramatic mystery, involving power and family. Don't worry if you haven't read previous books. This one can stand by itself.

R.J. Harlick's website is

Purple Palette for Murder by R.J. Harlick. Dundurn. 2017. ISBN 9781459738652 (paperback), 392p.

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Winners and Holiday Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Jody C. from Manhattan, KS won Murder at Chateau sur Mer. Sheryl J. of Grapevine, TX will receive The Inheritance. Due to the Veteran's Day holiday, the books will go out on Saturday.

I know it's early, but if the books are to go out in the mail so you can have time to read them before Christmas, I should give them away now. I have two 2017 releases, so many of you may not have had time to pick up these books yet. The latest Meg Lanslow Christmas mystery by Donna Andrews is How the Finch Stole Christmas. Meg has to solve the latest local murder before it spoils Christmas in Caerphilly. Meg's husband is changing his one-man show of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, making it a full production with the twins playing Tiny Tim and young Scrooge while Meg is the stage manager. But, Scrooge himself? The over-the-hill actor who comes to town to play Scrooge brings a sleigh full of baggage and enemies with him. And, what's with all those beautiful caged finches?

I have an ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) of The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers. This is a collection of unusual and unexpected stories from authors such as Tim Hallinan, Cara Black, James R. Benn, Sujata Massey. There's a wonderful introduction and Christmas  story by Peter Lovesey. If you're looking for a collection with some different stories, you'll want to try to win this one. (And, if you don't win this one copy, you might want to buy a copy.)

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win The Usual Santas" or "Win How the Finch Stole Christmas." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Nov. 16 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

What Are You Reading?

It's time to talk about our weekly reading. While I'm reading a book for review, I'm also reading Chris Matthews' new book, Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit. While I've read quite a bit about John F. Kennedy, I haven't read as much about Bobby. I've just started the book, but it's an easy read, and I'm enjoying it.

The big question is, what are you reading? Let's talk about your last week, and what you've had time to read. Let's talk about those books!

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

It's only been seven years since the last film version of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, and I know that fans of David Suchet's version of the movie are satisfied with him as Christie's detective, Hercule Poirot. Many are not even interested in checking out Kenneth Branagh's interpretation, especially after they saw trailers of him with his mustache. I've seen both earlier editions of the film. It's only my opinion, but I find the 1974 film starring Albert Finney to be brilliant, and Christie herself liked it. It's pure entertainment with a stellar cast including Ingrid Bergman, Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, John Gielgud, and Michael York. It's faithful to the book, with a few name changes, and an unusual final scene. I was disappointed in the 2010 film starring David Suchet. It lacked the entertainment element, and went with strong religious elements that were definitely not part of Agatha Christie's story. Read the book. Murder on the Orient Express is a true classic of the mystery genre. Then, check out whatever version of the movie you'd like to see. I'm heading to the theater to see Kenneth Branagh's new rendition once it's released.

If you've never read Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, you're in for a treat. This is one of the Golden Age mysteries with a most unusual ending. Christie violated the tenets of the genre by surprising the reader with quite a twist. If you've read the book or seen any rendition of the movie, it's still a treat to follow along with the great Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

Poirot has just wrapped up a case when he's called from Istanbul to London. M. Bouc, a director of the train line, offers his friend a first class compartment on the Orient Express, knowing it is seldom full in the winter. To his surprise, all the first class compartments are full, but M. Bouc insists Poirot be given a compartment to share until a first class compartment opens. And, it's M. Bouc who points out the romance of the train and its passengers. "All around us are people, of all classes, of all nationalities, of all ages. For three days, these people, these strangers to one another, are brought together. They sleep and eat under one roof, they cannot get away from each other. At the end of three days, they part, they go their several ways, never, perhaps, to see each other again."

On the train, Poirot observes his fellow passengers, including a man, an American named Ratchett, who tries to hire Poirot to protect him. Poirot turns him down, telling him he doesn't like his face. And, evidently someone else doesn't like Ratchett. Along with other disturbances during the night, Poirot hears a cry from Ratchett's compartment. All the passengers awake in the morning to learn that the train is stuck on the tracks, due to snow. But, their fellow passenger, Ratchett, doesn't awake. Instead, he's found dead in his locked compartment, stabbed a dozen times.

M. Bouc quickly enlists the services of Hercule Poirot to solve the crime since the train is stuck in Yugoslavia. Poirot sees only two solutions. Either the criminal left the train in the middle of the night, or he is still on the train, stuck with all the other passengers. It's Hercule Poirot's job to find the truth.

I can't reveal more about the book without spoiling the ending. Looking at the characters now, they seem to be stereotypes representing different classes and nationalities. But, the story was written in 1934. According to her grandson, Christie's books were written as entertainment. Murder on the Orient Express succeeds as a brilliant solution to a fascinating crime. And, Christie based part of her story on the headlines of an American crime.  Again, I won't spoil the story. I do recommend that you read the book before you watch any of the movies.

That doesn't mean you can't watch a trailer, though.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. 1934. (This edition - HarperCollins, 2017. ISBN 9780062689665, media tie-in, paperback, 288p.)

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

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Easy Errors by Steven F. Havill

Those of us who love Steven F. Havill's Posadas County Mysteries will relish the opportunity to read the surprising Easy Errors. Newcomers, fans of police procedurals, can pick up the series with this book. Easy Errors is a prequel to the prequel, One Perfect Shot. Welcome to Posadas County, a fictional small county in southwestern New Mexico. And, welcome to Undersheriff Bill Gastner's world.

Gastner is the narrator of this account, the story of Robert Torrez' first week on the job. Fresh out of the academy, Torrez is on a ride-along the night before he officially starts his job. This is a night that will test the young deputy's mettle. Even in his living room, Gastner hears the crash at 9:17 PM. The undersheriff is the first at the scene. He finds the body of a teen, ejected from the truck. Before he can stop Torrez, the young deputy, the second to arrive, is checking out the victims inside the vehicle. Two of the three teenage victims are Torrez' younger brother and sister.

Robert Torrez is a stoic throughout the entire investigation. Sheriff Eduardo Salcido has a small team, but he draws everyone into the case. Even so, it's Torrez and Gastner who do much of the fieldwork. At the same time, they still have other crimes to handle in Posadas County. It's a call to check out shots fired into a water tank and a windmill that will lead to the solution to the case. And, it's in a nearby canyon that Robert Torrez finds the body of another teen.

Havill's latest mystery is a textbook example of a compelling police procedural. Readers can follow along, step-by-step as Torrez and Gastner investigate. At the same time, this is a heartbreaking story of a county where everyone knows each other, knows the victims. The grapevine is active with rumors, but the stories and residents of Posadas County bring the humanity to the mystery.

Those of us who love Havill's mysteries will appreciate this look backward to a time when Robert Torrez was a rookie. There are glimpses of future characters, Reuben Fuentes, and his niece's adopted daughter, Estelle. Bill Gastner is still Gastner, though, which is a comfort.

Whether you've read all of Havill's mysteries, as I have, or are just starting out, Easy Errors is a solid, satisfying police procedural.

Easy Errors by Steven F. Havill. Poisoned Pen Press, 2017. ISBN 9781464209222 (hardcover), 262p.

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

Monday, November 06, 2017

Unholy City by Carrie Smith

Here's a case in which you can pick up book three in a series, and appreciate it. Carrie Smith's latest Claire Codella mystery, Unholy City, is a fascinating police procedural. The setting of the murder reminds me of Julia Spencer-Fleming's books. But, this is a solid police procedural that brings together a diverse cast for a compelling story.

Manhattan police detective Claire Codella has had a rocky life. She's the daughter of a killer, a man she saw beat a woman to death with a baseball bat. She's a cancer survivor who has had to struggle against her woman-hating boss. She left her police detective partner, Brian Haggerty, behind when she moved to homicide, a move that left them estranged, although they're now romantic partners. But, that doesn't mean it's easy to work together. When Haggerty arrives the scene of a death at St. Paul's Episcopalian Church, he calls in Claire to take over the case when he realizes Philip Graves, the senior warden, was murdered in the church's garden. Because it was right after a vestry meeting, the members of the vestry committee are all suspects. That's before Claire discovers there's a homeless shelter attached to the church, an organist in the church, and a man is found wandering on the second floor after midnight. The suspect list broadens when Claire and her team learn it was a tumultuous meeting, the minutes are missing, and they find the vestry secretary's body.

Secrets. It's all about secrets. All of the suspects have secrets they're trying to keep. And, the police are determined to find the secrets that may have led to Philip Graves' murder. It's not easy as suspects lawyer up, talk to the media, and try to thwart police discoveries.

Claire Codella has problems of her own. Her boss wants her off the case. The media is attacking her personally. And, her relationship with Brian Haggerty suffers as she focuses all her attention on the murder investigation.

Unholy City is a fast-paced, intense story that covers just a short period of time. It's Smith's character development, along with the police step-by-step investigation, that brings the story to life. Fans of police procedurals should appreciate Smith's entertaining mystery.

Carrie Smith's website is

Unholy City by Carrie Smith. Crooked Lane Books, 2017. ISBN 9781683313298 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Body on the Doorstep by A. J. MacKenzie

"Scarecrow! Scarecrow!

On the southern coast of England there's a legend people tell,
Of days long ago when the great Scarecrow would ride from the jaws of hell,
And laugh with a fiendish yell,
With his clothes all torn and tattered,
Through the black of night he'd ride
From the marsh to the coast like a demon ghost,
He'd rob the rich then hide,
And he'd laugh till he split his side

Scarecrow! Scarecrow! The soldiers of the king feared his name.
Scarecrow! Scarecrow! The country folk all loved him just the same.


These lyrics are copyright 1963 by Terry Gilkyson. And, anyone who grew up watching Diseny's "Wonderful World of Color", and is old enough to remember 1964, will remember those haunting lyrics. That was the opening to "Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh". And, it's all I could think about when I read A.J. MacKenzie's debut novel, The Body on the Doorstep, a mystery that features the Reverend Hardcastle, the minister at St. Mary in the Marsh in Romney Marsh.

In 1796, the people of southeast England's coast fear an invasion by the French. The sea provides their livelihood, but it also presents a threat. The small village of Romney Marsh on the coast is a hotbed of smuggling. Reverend Hardcastle's parishioners may not show up for services, but they are deeply involved in the local business of smuggling. He knows it, and they acknowledge he knows it by leaving him gifts of brandy. In fact, Hardcastle drinks at the local pub with many of those men. The Excise and Customs men responsible for collecting taxes are not quite as welcome there. 

It's after midnight when there's a pounding on Hardcastle's door, and the drunken rector stumbles his way there. But, when a dying man falls on his doorstep, a man who was shot, Hardcastle is aware enough to catch his last words. It's a message Hardcastle keeps to himself until the right person comes along. Mrs. Chaytor is a widow, a newcomer to the village, and her comments about the shots fired that night are enough to catch Hardcastle's attention. It isn't long before he teams up with the shrewd woman and the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, to pool their knowledge. 

Hardcastle and Chaytor are involved in a dangerous business. While Chaytor is a widow, Hardcastle has to deal with supervision by the Church as well as Lord Clavertye. He's the one who becomes a target when their investigation disturbs the wrong people. And, they seem to stir up trouble when they ask questions about a mysterious group called The Twelve Apostles.

Smuggling, murder, threats, bribery. MacKenzie's debut mystery is a fascinating historical mystery involving an actual hotbed of smuggling. The historical details bring the atmospheric mystery to life, while Hardcastle and Chaytor make a well-matched team of sleuths. There's even humor in this fascinating mystery.

If you relished the story of Dr. Syn; if you remember the Scarecrow, you'll want to read about the adventures of the Reverend Hardcastle and the widow, Mrs. Chaytor.

The Body on the Doorstep by A.J. MacKenzie. Bonnier Zaffre, 2017. ISBN 9781785761201 (paperback), 288p.

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