Friday, March 31, 2017

Winners and A Cozy Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Eileen K. from Island Lake, IL won The Gates of Evangeline. Heart of Stone will go to Daniel M. from Weymouth, MA. The books will go out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away two cozy mysteries. The Silence of the Flans is the second Emergency Dessert Squad mystery by Laura Bradford. Baker Winnie Johnson is owner of the Emergency Dessert Squad, a woman with a soft spot for lost causes. So when her business professor boyfriend, Jay, says one of his students is about to fail, Winnie offers to let her get extra credit by helping with her own business. But, when the first dessert the student delivers poisons a student journalist, the publicity could lead to failure of Winnie's business.




Blood Orange by Susan Wittig Albert finds China Bayles helping a nurse who ends up critically injured. China rented her guest cottage to Kelly Kaufman, a nurse employed by a local hospice. Kelly has discovered instances of suspicious practices, and believes that a patient has been murdered. Then, she's forced off the road and critically injured on the way to China's house. China owes it to her friend to uncover the truth.

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 The Silence of the Flans" or "Win Blood Orange." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, April 6 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Clea Simon, Guest Author

Clea Simon is an author and cat lover. All of her mystery series have cats in them, as you can see at her web site www.cleasimon.com. But, today, she's going to talk about a classic that inspired her. I hope you check out her fascinating piece.

Thank you, Clea.

*****
The spark (or A Cat’s-Eye View of Fire)


Fire, to an animal, is not a tool. While we humans may use it as a source of warmth or utility – a means to cook food or transform raw materials – to an animal it remains an untamed thing. A rival beast, insatiable and dangerous, and nearly impossible to defeat.


Luckily, fire can often be more readily detected by the four-footed than by the two. A cat’s sense of smell, for example, may more quickly pick up the acrid scent of burned wood or plastic, of ash as it dissipates in the air. A cat’s ears may hear its crackle before we would, and even if a cat’s prey-seeking vision may be more easily entranced by the creep of the red glow up a smoldering ember, a cat’s instincts will urge it to flee once that ember bursts into flame.


These are thoughts I was exploring the other day, as I worked on the final scenes of my current work in progress. Tentatively titled “Cross My Path,” this will be the third in my Blackie and Care series, featuring a homeless teen and the feral cat who has befriended her. (The series, published by Severn House, begins with “The Ninth Life” and continues with “As Dark As My Fur,” which will be published on April 1.)




The feline experience of fire is important to me because in these novels, set in an unnamed dystopian city with distinctly Victorian overtones, the narrative is provided by Blackie. And although he is a cat, with all a cat’s instincts and reflexes, he is – at least to the reader, if not his human companion Care – an articulate narrator, who strives to represent himself and his world both accurately and explicitly. A world that is both pre- and post-industrial, where fire is both necessary and, at times, more threatening than now.


As sometimes happens, as I worked on this late scene, I realized I had a wonderful opportunity for a precursor. This earlier scene would feature a more benign blaze, although of course it would foreshadow the later crisis. And as I started jotting down notes, I realized I was time-tripping back to an earlier scene in my own life – the long nights of my childhood, when with a flashlight under the covers, I would stay up way too late, reading and re-reading, utterly absorbed in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.”

Now, I understand that Kipling is problematic. His racism may have been typical for the time, but it is now obvious. And “The Jungle Book,” published in 1894, is no exception, with its cultural colonialism and exoticization of India. But as a child in an often troubled home, I didn’t see the condescension or disrespect. I saw a child who got to run away and live with the animals. I saw escape into a wonderful world populated by wild, furry friends. When the “man child” Mowgli – spoiler alert – is sent back to the village, I cried. (Second spoiler alert: don’t worry, he goes back to his adoptive wolf pack.)


Until this realization, I hadn’t opened a volume in Kipling in years. (I still tend to stay up way too late reading, however.) But as I wrote out my notes, cataloguing the various sensory clues fire would give to a creature who relies on scent and sound more than sight, a name came to me: Bagheera. Blackie (“not my real name,” as he frequently notes) may be much smaller and less fierce, a feral version of the common domestic cat. But in spirit, he is a direct descendent of the ferocious – and ferociously loyal – black panther who befriends Mowgli.


And so I pulled out my childhood copy of “The Jungle Book” and found myself re-reading it once again. In particular, reliving the animals’ reaction to the “Red Flower,” as they call it. For it is his mastery of fire that ultimately distinguishes Mowgli as a human. And it occurred to me that, all these years later, the spark ignited by a children’s book has caught. I have achieved my early wish and now live among the animals, at least while I’m at work.


Clea Simon is the author of 22 mysteries in four series, the most recent of which is As Dark As My Fur (Severn House). She may be reached at www.cleasimon.com.

As Dark As My Fur by Clea Simon. Severn House. 2017. 9780727886828 (hardcover), 208p.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What Are You Reading?

It's Wednesday, a good day this week to ask what you're reading. I'm reading Anne Cleeland's latest Doyle and Acton mystery, Murder in All Honour (love the cover). I'll admit her books aren't for everyone. Some readers don't care for Acton's obsession with Doyle. Those of us who love The Phantom of the Opera probably don't care. The books have the same sexiness. Scotland Yard, the Irish Doyle's "gift" of being able to tell if someone is lying, and of course the suspense all add up for stories that grab some of us. But, no book is for every reader.

What book grabbed you this week? Tell us about the latest one that you're enjoying. Or, if you are plodding your way through something, tell us about that. I'd love to know what you're reading, and there are other readers who enjoy checking the posts as well. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Desert Vengeance by Betty Webb

Recently, author Anne Perry posed a moral question. Should you do something morally repugnant to you in order to fulfill a duty? Private investigator Lena Jones faces a moral question in Betty Webb's latest mystery, Desert Vengeance. Should she hunt for the person who killed a pedophile and his wife? Does anyone want the killer captured?

When "Papa" Brian Wycoff was released from an Arizona prison, his wife, Norma, is waiting for him. So is Lena Jones, but she's waiting with a large knife, She does nothing more than threaten him, reminding him that she was the child who knifed him and eventually brought him down. But, it wasn't until after he had raped her multiple times while she was in foster care. There were seven children prepared to testify against him when he went to trial. But, Norma insisted they were liars. The day after his release, "that Mistress of Denial", Norma Wycoff, is found murdered. Wycoff, fearing he's next, breaks probation, and flees. It's easy to track a felon when you're a private investigator.

Lena finds an unusual B&B, trailers close to Wycoff's sister's home. It's only when Brian Wycoff is found brutally murdered, though, that she finds out how unusual that B&B is. The owner, and several of the current renters, are women whose children went missing years earlier. Now, all of them are suspects in the gruesome death of a pedophile.

For the first time in years, Lena has a dreamless sleep after her rapist is killed. But, when an arrest comes, she's forced to look for a killer in order to get a troubled mother and innocent woman out of jail. Her investigation brings back memories of her childhood before she was four, memories she's been blocking. And, the woman who has never been able to let anyone into her life, finally reaches out.

Lena still has so far to go. Webb still leaves secrets in Lena's life, and leaves Lena unaware of love. Webb leaves us clues. Each new story is one more step towards answers.

Betty Webb has tackled tough stories in the past. She's dealt with polygamy, runaways and throwaways from polygamist sects, cancer-causing tests in the desert, the true stories of Nazi internment camps in Arizona. Once again, she delves into a tough subject, pedophiles, foster care, and missing children. How far should Lena go in searching for the killer of a known pedophile, and the woman who enabled him? What is justice? In Desert Vengeance, it's a compelling, troubling question. It's a troubling question in a riveting, powerful book.

Betty Webb's website is http://www.bettywebb-mystery.com

Desert Vengeance by Betty Webb. Poisoned Pen Press. 2017. ISBN 9781464205934 (hardcover), 273p.

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

There was something poignant about reading Amy Krouse Rosenthal's memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. I checked it out of the library when I read her piece in The New York Times, "You May Want to Marry My Husband,"http://nyti.ms/2mFk0fE. Rosenthal wrote the essay when she knew she was dying of ovarian cancer. Ten days after the piece appeared, she died.

Because Rosenthal's memoir was published in 2004, before she started publishing her children's books, it doesn't discuss them. Instead, it's very honest about her family, her feelings, her friendships, but it doesn't sugarcoat her faults. It's a clever format that I haven't seen for a memoir. She begins with an almanac that puts her life and book in context, what was popular when she wrote it, everything from news stories to children's names. She follows that with writings that led to the memoir. Then, she dives into an alphabetic discussion of her life.

Rosenthal read the entry "Encyclopedia" in an encyclopedia. One of the pertinent quotes said, "constructed like an onion, the different layers enclosing the heart". Rosenthal took that to heart, revealing thoughts and emotions. Dreams, fears, her husband and how she met him. She talks about introducing one friend to another, and feeling left out. She talks about things she's been into, such as coloring, and puts them in chronological order. Because the entries are in alphabetical order, random topics seem to come up. But, they all combine to give us a glimpse into Rosenthal's life.

At times, Amy Krouse Rosenthal's thoughts are nothing out of the ordinary. And, then there are comments that touch the heart. Under "Rainbows" she says there should be some sort of ritual associated with rainbows. "Or see a rainbow, put a dollar in a jar; then when you leave home at eighteen, your mother sends you off with your rainbow money." Just think about that - "your rainbow money". I want rainbow money in my life.

Why is Rosenthal's memoir heartbreaking while other biographies are not? Those people lived as well. Perhaps it's because her death is so fresh. Perhaps it's because of that essay about her husband, and the love she knew she was leaving behind. Knowing what we know now, that Rosenthal died on March 13 at fifty-one, the final entry is heart-breaking. It's "You". She says perhaps you think I don't matter. "But I was here. And I did things." The final line of that entry is, "I was here, you see. I was." Yes, Amy Krouse Rosenthal was.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Crown Publishers. 2004. 220p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bel of the Brawl by Maggie McConnon

"Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy." The quote from William Butler Yeats describes Belfast McGrath's life. Maggie McConnon digs deeper into Bel's pain in the second book in the mystery series, Bel of the Brawl.

Soon after high school graduation and the disappearance of her best friend, Amy Mitchell, Bel fled from Foster's Landing. She came back fifteen years later, returning to Shamrock Manor as chef for her parents' catering hall. But, it's a small community, and Bel and some of the town still suffer from Amy's loss. When the police find clothes and items that belonged to her, Bel's once again ready to believe she's dead.

But, that's not the only death she has to deal with. The family and staff is still reeling from a death at the Manor when they cater a wedding for the Casey family. It's just Bel's bad luck to find the groom dying in the ladies' room. What more can go wrong? How about the disappearance of the ten thousand dollar tip the bride's father gave to Bel's father? And, what happened to the missing waitress?

There's humor in Maggie McConnon's Belfast McGrath mysteries, provided by her family. Her mother teaches Pilates and disapproves of Bel's fancy menus. Her father is an artist. Then there are her four older brothers who have side jobs as the house band at Shamrock Manor. There's "Dad's bluster and Mom's tough-girl routine and my brothers inability to find their collective way out of a paper bag". Then, there's Bel, who enjoys playing investigator, a change from her life as a chef. 

Belfast McGrath, who still regrets the last words she said to her best friend. She left home, fleeing her memories, only to deal with them on a day-to-day basis when she returns. It's not easy being "the best friend", as a journalist says, of a young woman who disappeared. It's a tragedy that continues to linger over Foster's Landing, and Bel's life. Even as she searches for the truth behind the latest death at Shamrock Manor, she dreads the truth about Amy Mitchell. 

Bel of the Brawl is the second mystery set at a wedding and catering hall. Despite the Irish reels, the food, the dancing, and Maggie McConnon's well-drawn characters, this series has dark secrets.

Maggie McConnon's (Maggie Barbieri) website is www.maggiebarbieri.com

Bel of the Brawl by Maggie McConnon. St. Martin's. 2017. ISBN 9781250077295 (paperback), 320p.

*****
FTC Full disclosure - I received the book to review for a blog tour.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany

Any Sherlock Holmes fan will recognize the "Elementary" from stories, movies, and TV, if not from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's actual work. Vicki Delany's clever Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery, Elementary, She Read, is a wonderful addition to the tributes to "the World's Greatest Detective".

Gemma Doyle, whose Great Uncle Arthur claims to be related to Holmes' creator, is "the half owner, manager, head shop clerk, and chief duster of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium in the Cape Cod town of West London, Massachusetts". The Englishwoman is also half owner of Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room, run by her best friend Jayne Wilson. Uncle Arthur established the store at 222 Baker Street for tourists, not for collectors or rare book dealers. Gemma, who is as observant as Sherlock Holmes, and almost as lacking in social skills, knows every item in the shop, and instantly tallies in her mind what has been sold. That's why she recognizes the presence of a magazine that doesn't belong in the shop, a copy of Beeton's Christmas Annual of 1887. Mentally, Gemma can picture all the people in the shop that day, and identify the woman who left it behind. Gemma and Jayne track the woman to a local hotel, but they're too late to return the magazine. They find her dead.

Gemma's honesty and straightforward conversation do not necessarily work well for her when the police show up. One officer is a man she used to date. One is a woman who takes an instant dislike to Gemma. If they won't let her help with their investigations, she'll take it upon herself to find answers. After all, she found the body, and what appears to be a magazine worth a half million dollars. Everyone in town seems to think Gemma now owns the copy of Beeton's, although she protests she only found it in her shop. She might as well use her intelligence and observation skills to find a killer.

Delany's newest series introduces a delightful amateur sleuth with recognizable traits. Her honesty, observation skills, and her lack of awareness are perfect. There's a sense of humor in the book, and it's at Gemma Doyle's expense. The clues and case are so obvious as Gemma explains them, and, sometimes, so obviously wrong. Elementary, She Read is a charming addition to all the stories related to the subject of Sherlock Holmes.


Vicki Delany's website is www.vickidelany.com

Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany. Crooked Lane. 2017. ISBN 9781683310969 (hardcover), 308p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book



Friday, March 24, 2017

Winners and Award Nominee Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Courtney W. of Loceya Spring, AL won City of the Lost. Lisa G. from Pensacola Beach, FL won The Widower's Wife. The books will go out today.

This week, I'm giving away two books that feature journalists. The books were award nominees. Heart of Stone by James W. Ziskin is up for the Edgar for Best Paperback Original of 2016. Ellie Stone's holiday in the Adirondacks is interrupted by murder. Two men plummeted to their deaths on the rocks near a dangerous diving pool. But, the police soon learn the men didn't know each other. Ellie, a reporter and amateur sleuth, is caught up in an investigation involving free-love intellectuals, charismatic evangelicals, and old grudges.




Hester Young's The Gates of Evangeline was a nominee for debut novel from the International Thriller Writers. The contemporary Gothic novel takes Charlotte "Charlie" Cates to a Louisiana plantation. After a dream shows a young boy asking for her help, she accepts a job writing the story of a boy who disappeared years earlier. She's hoping she can prevent the death of a missing child while she's there. She uncovers secrets of love, betrayal and murder, secrets that could put her in danger.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read either "Win Heart of Stone" or "Win The Gates of Evangeline." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, March 30 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What Are You Reading?

What are you reading today? I'm enjoying the first Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery, Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany. I like the sleuth's voice. Gemma Doyle moved from England to West London, Massachusetts where she's part owner of Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium. It's a fun story.

So, I want to catch up. Are you slogging through an on-going book? Or, have you been racing through something entertaining? Let us know!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

The disease of the year must be ovarian cancer. Last month, I reviewed The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth. Hepworth's novel focused as much on the daughter as the dying mother, because the daughter suffered from Social Anxiety Disorder. There's a dying mother in Lauren Grodstein's Our Short History, again dying of ovarian cancer. But, the voice! Oh, the voice of Karen Neulander is beautiful and ferocious and demanding. It's perfect for the novel.

Karen Neulander is dying of Stage IV ovarian cancer. She hopes to have at least two more years with her six-year-old son, Jacob. As a single mother, it's just been her and Jake against the world, her beautiful son. She has her plans made. He'll move from their home in New York City to the Seattle area where he'll live with her sister Allison's family. And, she takes him there for the summer so he can make himself at home. It's there that she starts to write a book to Jacob to tell him about her feelings for him, her love and her hopes. And, she tells Jake about her family, her job as a campaign manager for Democratic candidates. And, then Jake asks to meet his father.

When Jake's father, Dave, learned Karen was pregnant, he insisted he never wanted to be a father, and even questioned whether the baby was his. Karen left, and never told him she kept the baby. Now, when she contacts Dave, he's ecstatic to learn he has a son, and wants to meet him. Jake and Dave bond immediately, and it shakes Karen. Now, on top of worrying that she's dying and leaving Jacob, she's worried her ex will try to claim their son.

It's all on the pages. Karen's voice is the voice of a mother pouring out her life and her soul to the son she knows she won't see grow. She knows he'll be at least eighteen when he reads the story she leaves behind. All of her feelings for Jake and her anger at Dave are on the pages, "My Jackson Pollack of feelings (rage, heartbreak, longing, sadness, patience, grief, sweetness, murder." The entire book is in Karen's voice as she writes her life, explaining herself to a Jake that she admits she won't even know when he reads it. She won't know what he looks like as an adult, where he'll go to school, what sports he'll play. Grodstein gives voice to a mother's love for her son. And, when her sister Allison deals with her problems with her older children, and comes to rescue Karen in a time of need, they fall asleep side-by-side. "We fell asleep pondering the condition of being mothers, which was, of course, the condition of helping the people you love most in the world leave you."

In Our Short History, a dying Karen Neulander writes a love letter to her son. There's heartbreak here, but the love is so strong, it outweighs the heartbreak. Grodstein has created a mother's voice in her novel, and it's a strong voice of love and anger and fear. This is a book for book clubs, a book you'll remember.

Lauren Grodstein's website is www.laurengrodstein.com

Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein. Algonquin Books. 2017. ISBN 9781616206222 (hardcover), 352p.

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Murder on the Serpentine by Anne Perry

Anne Perry's Murder on the Serpentine wraps up the story of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt as we know it. However, since she's going to pick up the story of the next generation, I'm sure we'll see the couple again. Even so, this mystery is an excellent finale to this storyline.

Thomas is now commander of Special Branch, the part of Her Majesty's government that deals with threats to the safety of the nation. But, he's not prepared to be summoned to meet with Queen Victoria herself. The aging Queen is troubled and concerned for her son's reputation. She's been on the throne for sixty-two years, and knows it's almost time for Edward to take over. She wants Thomas to personally look into the background of Alan Kendrick, a new friend of the prince's who seems to have a great deal of influence over him. And, she wonders if Alan Kendrick knows more than he should about the death of an advisor to the Queen.

Sir John Halberd's body was discovered in the Serpentine, a shallow river that runs through Hyde Park. Rumors swirl as Society wonders what he was doing there at night. Now, Thomas must work himself into the right places to hear the gossip, without informing Charlotte of his interest. After nineteen years of marriage, the couple has been used to working together. But, Thomas' new position, and this assignment from the Queen, means he can't tell his wife what he's doing. For the first time, Charlotte feels lost and unneeded.

As Thomas struggles with the most important case of his life, one that could influence all of England, readers witness a good man troubled by his conscience, and his need to take actions that sometimes bother him. It's a story of power, and how it can be used and misused. At the same time, Charlotte's emotions and actions are important to the story. Perry has brought the couple together, summarizing their years and their cases, in this fascinating story. And, the finale is an ending appropriate for Thomas and Charlotte Pitt's storyline.

Anne Perry's website is www.anneperry.co.uk

Murder on the Serpentine by Anne Perry. Ballantine Books. 9780425284988 (hardcover), 288p.

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


Monday, March 20, 2017

Recap - Anne Perry at The Poisoned Pen

I had never heard Anne Perry, so I was lucky enough to see her at The Poisoned Pen when I was in Arizona. I really liked her latest Thomas and Charlotte Pitt book, Murder on the Serpentine. Here's the recap of the program.




Thomas Pitt, who is now commander of Special Branch, is asked to take a special assignment by Queen Victoria, who is in the last years of her reign. The assignment puts Thomas in a difficult position. He can’t go home and talk to Charlotte about the case now that he’s head of the anti-terrorist force. Charlotte has to do a work around with Emily in order to find out information. Perry said Emily is made for deviousness. Lady Vespasia is currently on her honeymoon with Victor, so they are not available for advice or assistance. Perry deliberately sent Victor out of the country so Pitt had to work on the investigation by himself.

Perry said this book poses a moral question, whether you will do something repugnant to you to fulfill a duty – your job – going against your better nature to save the country. It’s something Thomas would rather not do, but must. The danger is very real.

After Prince Albert’s death, there was a great deal of tension between Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales. Victoria has always been fun, but Albert was a prude. While at Cambridge, Bertie had a fling with an actress. Although Albert was sick, he went to scold him despite the terrible weather, and he died soon after. Victoria blamed Edward for his father’s death. She wouldn’t let him participate in government until just before she died. However, the Germans were fond of him and his libertine behavior.

Edward had a penchant for friends who were not quite appropriate, not just women. In Murder on the Serpentine, Victoria was concerned about one of Bertie’s new friends. She asked a trusted friend to look into the man’s background, and her friend ended up dead. She was concerned she had sent him to his death. Was it an accident or murder? Here’s a woman who has outlived most of her the people she loved. She’s fragile. She’s been the Queen since she was nineteen. Can Thomas tell her the truth? She asks to see him, and personally asks him to investigate.

The book also deals with armaments, and the fear of a second Boer War.

And, there’s some of the bitchiest dialogue between women in some of Perry’s scenes. It’s cruel, but said with a smile. Perry said there’s elegance in the façade of British society.

Asked if she was writing anything else, Perry said she wants to write an international thriller set in the 1930s in Berlin. There’s so many things she’d like to do. She’s doing the final edit of the Daniel story. Daniel is the son of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. The book is set in 1910. Perry said she can only work all the time. She can’t do any more. She does her best work in the morning when she’s sharpest. Afternoon work isn’t as good.

Perry and Peters discussed Anne Perry’s recent move from Scotland to West Hollywood. She said she couldn’t take her all of her books. She only took thirty, most of them poetry. She loves Dante’s Inferno. He said, “You’re not punished for your sins, but by your sins.” There was a lengthy discussion of the alphabet when she mentioned a history of the alphabet book. If language isn’t written, that civilization is lost.

There were conversations about World War II, language, laundry, Princess Margaret, war memorials, the RAF and British pilots in the United States. Barbara Peters said the conversations at The Poisoned Pen often contain lengthy digressions because they can’t talk about the books for more than five or ten minutes because people haven’t yet read it. Anne Perry said she loves to talk with the readers, though, and take their questions. She likes to know what readers are thinking. She writes to communicate stories to the readers.

Peters said she often asks authors who their readers are. Who is their audience? When she said Anne Perry knows her readers, Perry said, “A lot of retired English teachers and librarians.” Also clergy and nuns.


Anne Perry said she’s editing an anthology for Mystery Writers of America. She picked the topic of odd couples – detectives who pair up with someone in an unlikely pairing. For instance, Charles Todd wrote about Ian Rutledge and his ghost.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Tucson Festival of Books

My trip to Arizona was all about books. I flew to Phoenix with my friend, Donna, and then we drove down to Tucson. The book festival means friends. We had a birthday dinner with a friend and her guests on Friday night. Saturday, we weren't on the grounds for ten minutes when I ran into a former co-worker and her husband. It's so good to see Arizona friends. Oh, and just to let you know, we left Indiana just before the cold weather settled in, and arrived in Arizona to enjoy sunshine and 90 degrees. Beautiful! And, very much appreciated in March.

While Donna went to a variety of panels, most of the ones I attended were in the mystery field. Some of the panels seemed a little odd, and the panelists struggled to discover what they had in common, other than they wrote mysteries or thrillers. I went to the first one to see a writer who was going to be on the panel I moderated on Sunday.

Darynda Jones, Hester Young, John Sandford

What do Darynda Jones, Hester Young and John Sandford have in common? Well, Jones and Young have some paranormal elements in their books, but Sandford doesn't. He was an excellent storyteller, though.

The moderator of that panel was Lee Harris. She hasn't had a Christine Bennett book out in eleven years, but I read every one of them.

Lee Harris

Following that panel, I headed off to hear Donis Casey and Andrew Gross talk about family and the influence on their books.

Donis Casey
Andrew Gross
Because Terry Shames and I both marked her appearance for the wrong day, we were able to find time to go to lunch together.

Terry Shames
I was able to catch Craig Johnson just as he took his place at Clues Unlimited's booth.

With Craig Johnson
Then Cara Black was kind enough to spend time talking to me about sites I should see in Paris.
With Cara Black

On Sunday, I spent time talking to friends at Desert Sleuths, Sisters in Crime. I went to see Terry Shames and Andrew Gross on a panel. Donna and I caught up with each other when we went to a ticketed event, Lisa See, Christina Baker Kline, and Martha Hall Kelly. A search for gelato led to other friends from Glendale, and I sat with them for a while before heading off to moderate a panel.

I moderated a panel called Deadly Debuts with Gina Wohlsdorf and Hester Young. I'm sure it wasn't easy for them with only two people on a panel.

Hester Young, me, Gina Wohlsdorf

My panel was the last one I attended, but I hurried to another room where I stood in line with Donna to have Craig Johnson sign a book. And, I took a picture of her with Longmire star A. Martinez and Craig.

A. Martinez, Donna, Craig Johnson

Terrific book festival. It's changed some while I was away from Arizona for the last four years. But, it's still wonderful. The organizers do an excellent job, and it runs smoothly.

From Tucson, we headed to Scottsdale for the next few days. More pictures soon!



Saturday, March 18, 2017

What Are You Reading?

Between laundry, taking my car in for servicing, tons of emails at work, and, of course, basketball, I haven't had time to catch up with my blog yet. There will soon be pictures from the Tucson Festival of Books, and coverage of a couple events at The Poisoned Pen. But, today, it's all about you.

What have you been reading in the last week? Let's catch up on your reading instead of mine. I'd love to know what books you're listening to or reading.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Winners and Thriller Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the copies of Clare Mackintosh's I See You. The books are going to Sandy O. from Milford, OH and John S. of Iowa City, IA. They're going out in the mail today.

I have two thrillers to give away today. City of the Lost is the first in Kelley Armstrong's series that
features Casey Duncan. She's a homicide detective with a secret: she killed a man when she was in college. She was never caught, but since he was the grandson of a mobster, she knows the crime will catch up with her. When her best friend, Diana, needs to disappear after her abusive ex-husband finds her, they both head to a town where people on the run can shed their old lives. But, Rockton has secrets of its own, and Casey and Diana may be in more danger than before.



Or, maybe you'd like to win Cate Holahan's The Widower's Wife. Ana Bacon, a young housewife, tumbles off a cruise ship, and she may have taken her secrets with her. Investigator Ryan Monahan doesn't believe her death was an accident. Ana's death means a payout of ten million dollars. But, her husband has a solid alibi, and a number of witnesses claim they saw Ana fall. The more Monahan learns about Ana's life, the more he realizes how many people would kill to keep their secrets hidden. And, as he gets closer to the truth, he may be getting closer to his own tragic fall.

Which thriller 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 City of the Lost" or "Win The Widower's Wife." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, March 23 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner


Sometimes, it's all about serendipity. I was at The Poisoned Pen the other night when Jacqueline Winspear was talking about war brides who came over on the Queen Mary, British women who had married American servicemen. Then, I read Susan Meissner's novel, A Bridge Across the Ocean. It's the story of one of those voyages, and three women, two of whom were on that voyage.

Brette Caslake lives in present day San Diego. She has always had "the Sight", but, in her family, it's viewed more as a curse than a blessing. Her aunt saw ghosts, and called them Drifters. She said they came in and out, and she warned Brette not to talk with them. Brette's high school and college mistakes in telling people causes her to hide the Sight from everyone except her husband. He believes her, but he's pushing her to have a child, and she fears she'll pass the gift on to a daughter. It's a high school classmate's daughter that sends Brette to the Queen Mary, where she encounters a strong spirit. Brette's research leads her to stories from World War II.

In 1946, two women joined hundreds of other war brides who were setting out for new lives in America. One was a former ballerina, Annaliese. The other, Simone, watched her father and brother die, executed by the Nazis for their role in the Resistance. Both women have secrets they carry on the ship, stories of tragedy. Only one of those women gets off the Queen Mary in New York.

Meissner's fascinating account  of a little known facet of the World War II story is slowly revealed in a character-rich book. Readers who enjoyed Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale might want to try another novel dealing with the lives of women during the war. Brette's search in contemporary times adds to the interest. Her involvement brings a paranormal element to the book, and a connection to the past.

A Bridge Across the Ocean is a bridge across time, across the gap between life and spirit. Meissner's book also demonstrates a bond, a bridge between women, women who understand heartbreak and tragedy. It's the story of one woman trying to understand her own life while trying to comprehend and help the spirits of the past. The stories are entwined together skillfully and beautifully.

Susan Meissner's website is www.susanlmeissner.com

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner. Berkley. 2017. ISBN 9780451476005 (paperback), 368p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I requested the book in order to participate in a blog tour.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Have You Heard? - A Vision in Velvet by Juliet Blackwell

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/61jrXRPsYkL._SX376_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgA Vision in Velvet
Written by Juliet Blackwell, Narrated by Sands Xe
Unabridged Audiobook
Publisher: Tantor Audio; July 1, 2014
ISBN-10: 1494551063
ISBN-13: 978-1494551063
5 stars *****
It seems that there are no seams between books in the Lily Ivory mystery series by Juliet Blackwell. She ends one and then another begins as if there were no time gap. A VISION IN VELVET begins with an antiques dealer named Sebastian offering Lily, proprietress of Aunt Cora's Closet, an old trunk full of old clothes, something Lily would normally be excited about, until she looked closely. The trunk traveled over with the pilgrims and then to California with the gold rush, barely holding together. The clothes were in terrible shape, but one item intrigued Lily enough to bargain with Sebastian to buy the trunk. Lily finds a deep gold velvet cape with a purple silk lining, purple and gold fringe decorating the neckline with a silk-lined hood hanging down the back, and an ornate brass frog toggle fastening the neckline.

Lily swirled the cape around herself and fastened the closure at her neck without seeing the alarm in her familiar, Oscar's, eyes. Lily was immediately transported to another place and time. She felt a river of cold wash over her followed by heat with unintelligible sounds, As the images began to coalesce, Lily saw an angry mob pointing at her, jeering, and calling out curses.

Bronwyn's concerned voice made it through as she shook Lily and undid the clasp to the cape which caused it to slip from her shoulders. When Lily gathered herself together, she knew this was special and began tracking down its source immediately, but calls to Sebastian went unanswered. Lily noticed that Conrad didn't look too well either. He was a "gutterpunk" and explained that while he had a good sleeping spot, he'd been working hard at a petition to not cut down a particular ancient oak tree nicknamed Miss Quercus near the science museum. Apparently she was rotten on the inside, yet even in that state supported all sorts of life such as squirrels, woodpeckers, frogs, and even mushrooms. The town wanted to cut it down so it didn't hurt anyone, but Conrad and his friends wanted to save it as long as possible.

Lily had a premonition that something was very wrong. She tried to put facts together such as the cape, Conrad sleeping under the tree and developing headaches, so she asked to see the tree. Lily and Conrad walked there via different routes, and just as Lily arrived, she heard two shots and found Conrad kneeling over a bloody Sebastian, next to fresh digging at the base of the tree.

After dinner and meeting members of Sebastian's family, one of whom knew that cape had spent time in Salem Massachusetts. Lily still had to wait til the next night to check it out again. She put it on again, aware finally that she was there where they were burning witches and she was gathering ashes. Oscar warned her about bringing things back from another dimension. It led to a conversation about Miss Quercus, and Oscar said if they visited her, any woodlands creatures would appreciate a gift because they really don't like humans; and the best time to meet them was dawn or very early.

Lily and Oscar finally visited early the next morning. It was cold and foggy. No one else was there except the critters who lived there. The massive tree sent a branch to scare Lily. Rustling was going on in the top of the branches. Oscar was growling at it and then scooted up the tree, not to come down.

Lily was beside herself; no Oscar? Ever again? She couldn't stand it. The shop became "Pig Central" when Conrad and his friends put out posters and lost pig ads all over town. Even Maya and Bronwyn joined in the search for Oscar. Only Lily and Sailor knew he'd disappeared up the tree. Somehow she had to piece together all her clues, get help from her grandmother and her coven as well as the friendly coven in San Francisco and Sailor and even Aidan. Would they save Miss Quercus or will she be cut down as planned? Will Conrad recover from being poisoned? With all those women concentrating together against the witch who had been burned at the stake, will they be strong enough to find Oscar? You'll only know if you read the book.

Sandie Herron

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Have You Heard? Victoria Laurie's Ghouls, Ghouls, Ghouls

GHOULS, GHOULS, GHOULS
Ghouls, Ghouls, Ghouls: A Ghost Hunter Mystery | [Victoria Laurie]Series:  Ghost Hunter Mystery Book 5
Written by Victoria Laurie
Narrated by Eileen Stevens
Unabridged Audiobook
Listening Length: 8 hours and 32 minutes
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: December 28, 2010
ASIN: B004HFNACY
***** stars

I enjoyed the fifth entry in the MJ Holliday, Gilley Gillespie, and Heath Whitefeather “Ghoul Getters” television series very much.  I loved the way author Victoria Laurie twisted several storylines together coming up with a cohesive story, sort of like a braid of hair.  MJ and Heath are psychic mediums, and Gilley is a tech wizard.  They help people with ghost, phantom, demon, and all matters of paranormal creatures and problems.

Finding hidden treasure prompts a new episode of their TV show at the haunted ruins of Dunlow Castle in Ireland.  There are multiple ghosts at the castle, all of whom were scared by an onsite phantom released from his talisman by gold hunters. It sounded like he was the worst "ghoul" MJ, Gilley, and Heath had encountered.  Rumor has it that the man who built the castle hid booty of gold somewhere within the vast rooms and crypts. The castle was high on a bluff so there were several ghosts there because they fell off the cliffs.  One in particular held the secret to accessing the phantom and therefore the gold.  Producer of the show, Gopher, disappears in the castle and cannot be found there or on the rocks below; MJ and Heath cannot feel his spirit, which hopefully means he has not died.  Without Gopher leading production of "Ghoul Getters" and sending footage off to the big wigs that control the show, they decide to cancel the show and fire everyone.

Now the ghost busting team must find a way to make the phantom disappear, help any ghosts that want to cross over, find Gopher, get the show renewed or find a new home for it, all while suffering falls and wounds and Gilley eating every piece of food in site.  It's amazing how Victoria Laurie can mix together storylines like that!  Somehow they get the jobs done.  

Hearing all this turmoil on audio truly brings it to life.  One ghost in particular stands high on the bluff shouting his true love’s name.  Over and over again, loud and persistent.  This ghost is not old, and his true love is alive and waiting for the team to free her love so he can stop suffering.  With the expert writing skill of the author and the skill narrating so many voices added to the images in your own imagination, the characters are practically sitting next to you.  They come to life around you.  It is magic and so much fun yet filled with terror.  It was extremely difficult to put this book down, leaving everyone waiting for your return to continue the stories brought forth in one book.

This entry can easily stand on its own but is so much richer and scarier knowing the characters and watching them grow.  Awesome!

Sandie Herron