Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

While Broken Homes isn't my favorite in Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, the ending came as surprise. And, it was perfect.

Peter Grant is a police constable with a little bit of magic. He and a former classmate, Lesley May, reside at the Folly with their instructor, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. It's there that they continue their lessons while fighting against those who use magic and the supernatural for evil purposes. Peter calls one of those the "Faceless Man", and they've been hunting him since Peter first ran into him.

This time, the small group travel all over the countryside as they investigate a case that could have a connection to the Faceless Man. Eventually, they end up in a confrontation with a Russian woman, who like Nightingale, seems to be aging backwards. She, too, had been active in World War II, using her magic skills.

But, it's one building, what we would call the projects, and the book refers to as an estate, the infamous Skygarden Estate, that draws Grant and Lesley. They move in, searching for someone with a connection to magic or to the "Faceless Man". And, they find more than they expected, a dryad, river goddesses, fae, and others who hear what's going on in the building. Peter also makes connections with residents of the neighborhood, while keeping his occupation a secret. It's only at a climatic scene that he's forced to reveal his identity.

As I said, Broken Homes isn't my favorite book. There's a little too much German, a little too much discussion of architecture. But, the resolution will come as a shock to anyone who has been following the series. On the other hand, as I said, it was an appropriate, perfect ending. It will be fascinating to see where Aaronovitch goes from here.

Ben Aaronovitch's blog is at

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch. DAW Books, 2014. 326p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

How often do you read a novel and find it so wonderful that it makes you want to not only reread it, but also read another book? Deanna Raybourn's third Veronica Speedwell mystery, A Treacherous Curse, moves the characters' relationship along, while also making me want to go back and reread Jane Eyre.

After the Earl of Rosemorran fell over his Galapagos tortoise, the planned expedition to the South Pacific is off, and Veronica and Stoker, the scientist, Templeton-Vane, are back to piecing together museum pieces at Belvedere, the earl's estate. For entertainment, Veronica and George, the young hall boy, read newspaper reports of the Tiverton Expedition to Egypt.The stories turned to accounts of appearances of Anubis, the god of the underworld, and curses because of a recovered sarcophagus. Did the curses cause the death of the project director and the disappearance of photographer John de Morgan, who seemed to have absconded with wife and a diadem? It was only when Sir Hugo, head of Scotland Yard's Special Branch, called Stoker and Veronica to his house, that Veronica learns De Morgan was once Stoker's best friend, the man who left him to die in the Amazon. And, De Morgan's wife? She is Stoker's ex-wife, whose stories of Stoker's brutality scandalized London.

If Stoker hadn't once beaten De Morgan almost to death, he might not now be considered a suspect in his disappearance. The meeting with Sir Hugo sets the two on an investigative path. They need to find the missing photographer, who seems to have disappeared from Dover, look for the stolen diadem, and, worst of all, in Stoker's opinion, interview his ex-wife. The two also arrange a meeting with the Tivertons, to discuss the expedition and ask a few questions. They don't realize how dangerous their task is. And, someone seems to be following them all over London.

A Treacherous Curse is an exciting adventure with marvelous characters. Veronica, with her independence, and her ability to match wits with Stoker, has become a favorite character. She's an intelligent, adventurous woman who actually is derived from stories of women of the Victorian age who did travel throughout the world. She's shrewd and knowledgeable as to how to deal with men, Stoker in particular. The two are irreverent about everything, and they make a perfect duo. Their developing relationship is fascinating to observe.

Fans of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody books should enjoy this series, and this book in particular. Jane Eyre? I don't want to spoil the actual story. Both A Treacherous Curse and Jane Eyre deal with social standing and prejudice. But, I'm not going to set the scene for you when the similarity hit me in the face. My favorite line from the book, though, is, "Reader, I carried him."

Deanna Raybourn's website is

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn. Berkley. 2018. ISBN 9780451476173 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

Murder of a Good Man by Teresa Trent

I liked the first mystery in Teresa Trent's new Piney Woods series. I really did, and I hope to read the next book. But, her stereotypes and comment about a senior really bothered me when I realized how old the character was. And, neither the author nor the amateur sleuth are young enough to make these comments. More about this later. If the comments won't bother you, you might enjoy Murder of a Good Man.

Nora Alexander was surprised with her dying mother's last request. She asked her to deliver a letter to Adam Brockwell in Piney Woods, Texas. Nora could have mailed it, but she drives from New Orleans to the town she never heard of, only to be almost run off the road before she reaches her destination. In Piney Woods, she finds a quirky little bed-and-breakfast with enchanting owners. But, she isn't so enchanted with the people she meets at Brockwell's house. His reaction to the letter stuns her, and, because she presented it unopened, she doesn't know what the letter says. When she asks, she's read a scathing letter that attacks Brockwell. It appears as if her mother hated the man. That comes as a surprise to others because Adam Brockwell is one of the top candidates for that year's Piney Woods Pioneer award for the best citizen in town.

When Brockwell is killed, the hunky police chief, Tuck Watson, looks at Nora as the only one known to hate the man. He asks Nora to stay in town. Desperate for money, she accepts a job helping Tuck's aunt restore a historic hotel. It gives her time to search for someone else who might have wanted him dead. Nora Alexander doesn't want to end up in prison now that she runs into people that know her mother's history.

Murder of a Good Man is an enjoyable story. The historic hotel shows great potential for future books. But, here's my issue with Trent's comments, and Nora Alexander's. Nora is thirty-three. Yet, when she and other characters discuss Adam Brockwell, they refer to him as "an old man", "a grizzled old man", "in his old age". I could accept that until about halfway through the book when a character says, "Maybe he wasn't as on top of his game as he used to be. The old guy had to be close to sixty." What the heck? What thirty-three-year-old views a man not yet sixty as old?

I'm sorry. I did like Murder of a Good Man, but at sixty, with an active mother over eighty, I don't appreciate the stereotype and the comments about age. Trent needs to examine her attitude and her characters' attitudes if she wants fans who are cozy readers.

Teresa Trent's website is

Murder of a Good Man by Teresa Trent. Camel Press. 2018. ISBN 9781603816359 (paperback), 256p.

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

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

A friend in Wales told me to believe everything Ben Aaronovitch's books say about London, and, even more so. That means underground London is even more interesting than Paris with its catacombs. Peter Grant, police constable and wizard-in-training, has the chance to spend more time than he would like in London's tunnels in Aaronovitch's entertaining Whispers Under Ground.

It all starts with a simple murder. An American student, James Gallagher, is found dead in an Underground tunnel. DCI Seawoll doesn't want to hear anything about magic. Unfortunately, Peter finds traces of magic on the murder weapon, a piece of pottery. And, Gallagher is the son of a U.S. Senator, which means an FBI agent trails along when the Senator comes to retrieve his son's body. Agent Reynolds doesn't believe in magic, but she seems to pop up wherever the case takes Peter.

In this case, it takes him into the tunnels underneath London's Underground. It's a whole other world under there, and he needs the help of the British Transport Police. Sergeant Kumar is a little more inclined to pay attention to Grant when it comes to the magical aspects of the investigation. He's seen too much underground to be surprised by much. But, the magical beings, the fairies, goblins, ghosts and Whisperers are all part of a world that Peter Grant is still trying to understand.

The third book in Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series is filled with tidbits of British history, including an unexpected journey back in that history. While Peter Grant's first concern is the murder investigation, and the serious aspects of what they uncover, his wry outlook on life is fun and refreshing. Outside of a Terry Pratchett novel, where are you going to read about "the world's first ever Anglo-American Olympic sewer luge team"?

If you're up to exploring the tunnels, the Underground, the sewers of London with Peter Grant, you'll want to venture into Whispers Under Ground.

Ben Aaronovitch's blog is at

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch. Del Rey, 2012. ISBN 9780345524614 (paperback), 303p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Last Stop in Brooklyn by Lawrence H. Levy

Someday I'm going to recruit my sister, Christie, to write book reviews for the blog. She       
reads some of the series I haven't yet had time to pick up, and her comments are perceptive and on target. She liked Lawrence H. Levy's earlier Mary Handley books, but I'm just getting around to the series with the third historical mystery, Last Stop in Brooklyn.

Mary Handley is the first female private investigator in Brooklyn. The daughter of an immigrant, she sees prejudice and racism, and she's willing to fight against it. She's on her least favorite type of case, trailing a possible cheating spouse, when she realizes she's being followed. When she accosts the man, he reveals he's the brother of a man convicted of killing a prostitute in a Jack the Ripper style slaying. But, he's convinced his brother was railroaded because he's an Algerian immigrant who doesn't speak English well.

As Mary uncovers evidence of police corruption, she keeps her friend, Superintendent Campbell, in the loop. She's finding evidence that there were other similar killings, most of them in the area around Coney Island. It isn't long before she's challenged and working with a brash newspaper reporter, Harper Lloyd. While they taunt each other, it's obvious the two investigators also respect each other.

Levy's third Mary Handley mystery is filled with historical details and figures. Teddy Roosevelt, while not prominent in most of the story, becomes an important figure for the wrap-up. Financiers Henry L. Norcross and Jay Gould are figures targeted by anarchists. The bigotry and segregation that Mary witnesses at Coney Island is based on facts. And, the author's note mentions that "new immigrants were blamed for the country's problems when the reason for those problems run much deeper." It's a fascinating historical mystery, with relevance in our own time.

If you're looking for the story of Mary Handley, start with Levy's first mystery, Second Street Station. If you want a fascinating historical mystery, try Last Stop in Brooklyn.

Lawrence H. Levy's website is

Last Stop in Brooklyn by Lawrence H. Levy. Broadway Books, 2018. ISBN 9780451498441 (paperback), 336p.

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

Friday, January 12, 2018

What Are You Reading? - Part 2 - Glen Davis' Favorites of 2017

Well, if I don't mess up the post today, Glen Davis can share his list of favorites for 2017. I've really enjoyed this. And, everyone sent me their list in a different way. I think I only messed up Margie's though.

And, just a reminder. If you're here for the book giveaway, check the previous post. And, if you're really here to see what Glen read, you're also welcome to mention your books read this week. Thanks for joining us.

And, thank you, Glen, for sharing what your read last year.

This year I somehow managed to read 370 books. That's an awful lot of fodder for a list. I tried to format the list to something manageable, comparing apples to apples, instead of apples to oranges or kumquats.

Best Espionage Novels:

Use of Force by Brad Thor

Starting with a gripping scene taking place during the Burning Man Festival, Scott Harvath has to stop a conspiracy by a Tajik terrorist. It's very exciting, and humanizes the antagonist to an unusual extent.

Trap The Devil by Ben Coes

Dewey Andreas is framed for the murder of the Secretary of State. There's a gripping scene on a train that will really stick with you.

Oath of Honor by Matthew Betley 

When a Russian Black Ops team is discovered in Alaska, Logan West and company pursue a conspiracy of stolen technology. A lot of breakneck action.

Hong Kong Black by Alex Ryan 

A bit different than the others on this list, as it features a romantic couple, Nick Foley and Dash Chen. As bodies wash up on a Hong Kong Beach, and someone murders a CIA agent, Nick and Dash uncover a conspiracy in which organ harvesting is just the tip of the iceberg

Best Hit Man Novels:

Zero Sum by Barry Eisler

Returning to Tokyo in 1982, John Rain tries to go back to work in his vocation as assassin. Unfortunately, another killer, named Victor has cornered that market. To get back in the game, Rain has to assassinate a government minister. 

Quarry's Climax by Max Allan Collins

Quarry is sent to Memphis by his boss, The Broker to find out who is trying to kill a publisher of pornography. This is a strange book, with not one, not two, but three layers of nostalgia. Like most of the series, the book in set in the 1970's. By the subject matter, it seems like it was first conceived in 1998, back when they made a movie about Larry Flynt. The book was published right before the "ME-TOO" movement started. I can't help but wonder if it would be published today.

Best Martial Arts Thrillers:

The Spy Across The Table by Barry Lancet

Some might say the Jim Brodie series is not a martial arts thriller, but in the first book, Japantown, he confronts a village full of ninjas. Case Closed.  In this entry, Jim Brody runs afoul of the North Koreans, and he finds out what his way of life can cost him.

The Aikido Caper by Daniel Linden

Parker is an aikido instructor in Florida. When things get a little lean, he also works as a PI. He gets a gig as a bodyguard to a movie star because accidents keep happening on the set. As much a meditation on the place of Aikido and Steven Seagal in the popular culture as it is a mystery.

Best Mystery (Non-Cozy) 

Dead To Begin With by Bill Crider

A wealthy recluse restoring the old opera house by staging A Christmas Carol is murdered. Sheriff Dan Rhodes investigates and finds the roots of the crime stretch back into the 1950's. All of the books in this series are great.

Torn and Restored by Austin Williams

Magician Rusty Diamond has to return to Las Vegas, a city he fled after accidentally injuring the daughter of a mob boss. Someone has found Diamond, and blackmailed him into coming back. Someone who is killing people and showing it on the dark web.

The Crack in the Lens by Steve Hockensmith

Old West cowboy sleuths Big Red and Old Red head down to San Marcos, Texas, to find out who killed Old Red's paramour. They found the town is a lot different than the one they left, but there are still people desperate to keep them from solving the crime.

Best Cozies

Antiques Disposal by Barbara Allan

Brandy and Vivian participate in a storage auction, and win a compartment that contains a vintage coronet and a dead body!

Dying for a Diamond by Cindy Sample

Laurel McKay and her husband Tom Hunter go on a honeymoon cruise. Somehow the entire supporting cast goes on the cruise too!  Laurel thinks she sees a body fall into the ocean...or does she? Nobody seems to be missing, but some jewels are!

The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper by Sally Carpenter

Former teen idol Sandy Fairfax tries to clean up his act and make a comeback. The only gig open is playing at a Beatles convention in Evansville, Indiana. While there, a member of a tribute band is shot. Sandy decides to sing with the band and solve the mystery.

Murder Has Nine Lives by Laura Levine

When Jaine Austin's cat is picked to be in a cat food commercial, Jaine is ecstatic. Maybe she'll finally have some extra money. Of course, nothing goes quite right, and there's a murder. Jaine's personal life is crazy, and she has to deal with that as well.

Best Psychological Thriller 

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

I read something like 30 books in this genre, and this is the only one I really remember. Five women go out into the wilderness of the outback, but only four come back. The police try to find out what happened, but nobody's story really matches with the others. Quite good.

And there it is! I tried to keep the list relatively short, but also include some lesser known books.


Winners and A Police Procedural Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Cheryl S. from Fort Pierre, SD won A Murder for the Books. Suzanne R. of Nashville, TN won The Plot is Murder. Because of our expected ice overnight, I put the books in the mail late on Thursday.

I'm a big fan of police procedurals. I have a contemporary one, and a historical one to give away this week. James L'Etoile's Bury the Past features Sacramento police detectives John Penley and Paula Newberry. They're in a race to stop a criminal mastermind who's coordinating murders from behind prison walls. And, someone with a long memory has targeted Newberry.

Conor Brady takes us to Victorian Dublin in A Hunt in Winter. Detective Inspector Joe Swallow's enjoying his promotion and his romance with his landlady. Then, his peaceful life is disrupted when a series of violent attacks against women lead to an outbreak of panic and fear. After all, people have heard of the recent horrors of Jack the Ripper. And, while Swallow works on that investigation, he's also dealing with a volatile political scene.

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 Bury the Past" or "Win A Hunt in Winter." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end at 5 PM CT on Thursday, January 18. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

What Are You Reading? Margie Bunting's Favorites of 2017 (Revised)

I'm sorry! I don't know what happened to the previous post. Please check both of them because some readers made wonderful comments.

I do know I introduced Margie Bunting, saying we met at Left Coast Crime in Monterey. And, we enjoyed it when Catriona McPherson called "Photo Bomb" and popped into the picture when Margie and I were posing. We had another chance to meet up at Left Coast Crime in Phoenix.

Catriona McPherson, Margie Bunting, myself

Now, I'm hoping I can put together Margie's list of her Favorites of 2017. (I'm sorry, Margie, for whatever happened.)

Because I just finished book no. 200 for 2017, it’s impossible to select just 10 favorite reads for the year, so I’ll cheat a bit.
My biggest “discovery” of the year was The Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley—three books to date in a 7-book series. Each book focuses on one of the adopted daughters of a recently-deceased Swiss billionaire who leaves them cryptic clues to their birth origin, leading them to faraway places, long-lost relatives, and connections to historic events. I found them all fascinating and can’t wait for the next in the series (coming in Feb.). Oh, yes, each daughter is named after a star in the Pleiades constellation. An ongoing mystery:  why are there only 6 daughters (and 7 books)?

Two thrillers stood out for me this year. Catriona McPherson serves up the quirkiest, creepiest novels of psychological suspense, often with a Scottish accent and a bit of mordant humor, and House Tree Person, set mostly in a psychiatric hospital, is no exception. Joanna Schaffhausen’s The Vanishing Season is an award-winning debut novel about the only surviving victim of a serial killer. She’s changed her name and created a new life as a cop, but why have three more victims been killed on her last three birthdays (and she’s received mysterious birthday cards) with the serial killer on death row?

On the other end of the mystery spectrum, I enjoy cozies that are “a cut above,” with engaging characters, great writing, attention to detail, and a smattering of humor. My pick for best debut cozy is Murder in Mayfair by D.M. Quincy. Lesa has already described this book, so I’ll just say that adventurer Atlas Catesby (gotta love his name) makes a dashing hero, and an intriguing plot, strong sense of place and time, and interesting secondary characters made me long for the next installment (Feb.). Other cozy favorites were John Clement’s The Cat Sitter and the Canary (former cop turned pet sitter), Jane Cleland’s Glow of Death (antiques dealer/appraiser), and Julia Buckley’s Pudding Up with Murder (chef whose customers pass the off her goodies as their own). These series are must-reads for me.

One of my favorite traditional mystery writers, Terry Shames, published the sixth in her Samuel Craddock series, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, which is my favorite to date. Writing in first-person present tense, Terry filters everything that happens through lawman Samuel’s eyes and ears, affording us a glimpse into his soul. Rather than focusing on a retired cop called back to duty, this prequel features Samuel as the newly minted police chief of a small Texas town, and we see his flaws as he deals with a racially-charged situation and a new marriage.

For my money ( or my library card), I don’t think anyone writes feel-good novels about women putting a disappointment behind them to start life as the proprietor of a bakery (or other business) than Jenny Colgan. This year I read three of hers—The Little Beach Street Bakery, Christmas at the Little Beach Street Bakery, and The Café by the Sea. True comfort food!

Another delectable comfort read was To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon, 14th in her lovely series about Father Tim Kavanaugh, who is now trying to deal with his advancing age while handling three generations of family issues, not to mention some difficult parishioners. Also this year, I relished Lauren Graham’s (Lorelei Gilmore!) memoir, Talking as Fast as I Can, which led me to read her novel, Someday, Someday, Maybeloved it!  Other comfort reads I rated highly include The Bookshop at Water’s End by Patti Callahan Henry and Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson.

Books with characters on the autism spectrum are increasingly popular, and I’m hooked. E.J. Copperman’s The Question of the Absentee Father, latest in his Asperger’s Mystery series, features a young man who owns Questions Answered, not quite a private investigation firm. He is assisted by his mother and his employee, who help him navigate a world where he excels at solving mysteries but needs to hone his social skills. In Benjamin Ludwig’s Ginny Moon, 13-year-old Ginny should be happy with her new and nurturing foster parents, but she longs for her abusive birth mother and previous family life. Of equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking, deeply affecting, and difficult to forget. A third favorite is The 7 Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard. Homebound 20-something Elvira must learn to make her way in the world when her mother has a stroke, so she sets strict rules for herself and does her best to execute them, with the help of a neighbor.

It feels good to read about lonely people who somehow come together and become a new family. The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg is one of these. Arthur meets teenaged Maddy at the cemetery where he visits his wife and Maddy hides from her schoolmates. Along with neighbor Lucille, the three forge a new life with new possibilities. I agree with Lesa that The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan is one of the very best of the year. I’ll defer to her review of this beautiful, uplifting story. And in Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, two misfits with poor social skills and troubled pasts meet at work and happen to save an elderly man’s life. Three beautifully drawn characters bond and save each other from lives of isolation.

Most of the rest of my picks are difficult to categorize. Rich People Problems is third in Kevin Kwan’s hilarious series about self-absorbed, ultra-rich Asian families in Hong Kong and Singapore and their crazy spending habits. Read the first in the series, Crazy Rich Asians, before the movie is released in 2018. The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert shows us how the power of food can bring a chef and a restaurant critic together. Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel reveals the cutthroat world of private school admissions. Beartown is not my all-time favorite Fredrik Backman novel (that would be My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry), but in my opinion he can do no wrong. This one is an engrossing story of a tiny town where everything revolves around its junior ice hockey team.

I have to mention my final read of the year, Seth’s Broadway Diary, Vol. 3, by Seth Rudetsky. If you love all things musical theater, as I do, you might enjoy Seth’s 2011-2012 Playbill columns about behind-the-scenes Broadway. He is a Broadway insider, having played piano in the orchestra pit for multiple shows, and is also an actor, writer, composer, accompanist for Broadway greats, standup comedian, and much more, and he is currently a host on Sirius XM. Volumes 1 and 2 are great, too!

Lesa, thank you for affording me the opportunity to reminisce about my 2017 reads, and thanks to fellow readers of Lesa’s blog for your reading suggestions. Now I’m off and running in 2018. Happy reading to all!

What Are You Reading? - Margie Bunting's Favorites of 2017

I don't know what happened here! I'm going to restore this post as quickly as I can. I know people commented, and I'll try to restore the comments as well.

Be patient. It all disappeared!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Perpetual Summer by Adam Walker Phillips

HR executive Chuck Restic is back, fighting for his life, and his work life. Adam Walker Phillips manages to combine amusing stories of Human Resources in the corporate world with the dark world of an amateur sleuth.  The Perpetual Summer brings back a few characters from The Silent Second in the second novel set in Los Angeles' diverse community.

When Restic's boss retires after forty-five years, and gives a speech showing how his entire career has been worthless, Chuck realizes he feels the same way. So, he isn't sure he wants to fight for a promotion. Then, he receives an offer that's harder to refuse. Real estate mogul Carl Valenti is a power in L.A. He's planning a museum to exhibit his art, and he actually seems more interested in that than in his request of Chuck. He offers him $100,000 to find his missing teenage granddaughter. And, he provides Chuck with his own driver, Hector. Valenti may say he trusts Chuck, but Hector will report back to the old man.

Restic is threatened by a gun-toting young man who faces down Hector, who only has a knife. He finds himself confronting a Chinese landlord and wannabe power broker. Time after time, he's defeated by that teenage girl and her boyfriend. Even as Chuck tries to hunt for her, he realizes he doesn't know the entire story. While she seems to be asking her grandfather for money, someone else seems to pushing for money as well. Worst of all, the sleep-deprived, busy Chuck finds himself failing at work opportunities. Now, he realizes he doesn't want his co-worker to get the promotion.

As I said before, the work aspects of Chuck Restic's life are amusing, and recognizable for any of us who have worked for a corporation or governmental agency. But, The Perpetual Summer has its dark side as well, including murder, and the hunger for power and revenge. Even Chuck find himself caught up in that trap. You can read The Perpetual Summer for the dark suspense, the amusing details, or, for the fascinating character of Chuck Restic, a man who recognizes his own flaws.

Adam Walker Phillips' website is

The Perpetual Summer by Adam Walker Phillips. Prospect Park Books, 2018. ISBN 9781945551123 (paperback), 280p.

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

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Rich Zahradnik, Guest Blogger

Let's talk about Rich Zahradnik's book, Lights Out Summer, before I discuss his guest blog.

Lights Out Summer (Camel Press; October 1, 2017)

In March 1977, ballistics link murders going back six months to the same Charter Arms Bulldog .44. A serial killer, Son of Sam, is on the loose. But Coleridge Taylor can't compete with the armies of reporters fighting New York's tabloid war--only rewrite what they get. 

Constantly on the lookout for victims who need their stories told, he uncovers other killings being ignored because of the media circus. He goes after one, the story of a young black woman gunned down in her apartment building the same night Son of Sam struck elsewhere in Queens.

The story entangles Taylor with a wealthy Park Avenue family at war with itself. Just as he's closing in on the killer and his scoop, the July 13-14 blackout sends New York into a 24-hour orgy of looting and destruction. Taylor and his PI girlfriend Samantha Callahan head out into the darkness, where a steamy night of mob violence awaits them.

In the midst of the chaos, a suspect in Taylor's story goes missing. Desperate, he races to a confrontation that will either break the story--or Taylor.

Rich Zahradnik was originally going to write about libraries. And, he did. But, he also touches on a timely, important topic. Thank you, Rich.

Rich Zahradnik is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Coleridge Taylor Mystery series (Last WordsDrop Dead PunkA Black SailLights Out Summer).

The first two books in the series were shortlisted or won awards in the three major competitions for books from independent publishers. Drop Dead Punk won the gold medal for mystery eBook in the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards. It was also named a finalist in the mystery category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Last Words won the bronze medal for mystery/thriller eBook in the 2015 IPPYs and honorable mention for mystery in the 2015 Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards.

Zahradnik was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter.

Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where he writes fiction and teaches kids around the New York area how to write news stories and publish newspapers.

For more information, go to

I was a journalist for 27 years. Coleridge Taylor, my protagonist in four books including the latest, Lights Out Summer, is a journalist. That leads to inevitable questions. “How much is he like you? Does his career match yours?” There are more differences than similarities, though there are some of the latter, as he could only come out of my experiences. Taylor is a much better reporter than I ever was. I wandered around the news business, trying lots of different things, curious about how newspapers, magazines and websites worked. Taylor is modeled on reporters I met along the way. He has his eyes on one thing: the story he’s after. He’s close to myopic in this. It’s his mission to report on the lives of victims and find out why they were killed and who did it. In many ways, I made him the reporter I thought I should have been. That doesn’t make him ideal—or an idealist. Such single-minded drive can be off putting. And dangerous to Taylor and the small group of people close to him.

I decided I was going to be journalist in the third year of high school. This was about the same time I learned of the McCarthy era witch-hunts, the blacklisting, the lives and careers destroyed. I became fascinated with how Senator Joseph McCarthy used lies to destroy lives. How America could be possessed with a fear that spread like a virus. And how the press seemed unable for much of the period to do anything to counter McCarthy’s lies with the facts.

My fascination, driven by nothing I was being taught in school, sent me to the newly opened Museum of Radio and Television (now the Museum of Broadcasting) in New York. I watched Edward R. Murrow’s surgical dissection of McCarthy’s charges on Murrow’s show “See It Now.” The broadcasting great brought facts to bear to expose the senator for the fraud he was. Murrow’s broadcast is credited, in part, with bringing down McCarthy.

I left high school for college in Washington, D.C., where I was pretty quickly assigned a research paper. I pretty quickly chose McCarthy and the press as my topic. I remained fascinated with journalism’s failure, and then success right at the end, at taking on a bully of national scale. I could have researched the paper at my university’s library. No doubt, they would have had what I needed. But I was in Washington. I had the Library of Congress up the mall behind the Capitol. The Library. Of. Congress. I was going big time, indulging a fancy, I must admit, as well as my curiosity about what it was like to use the nation’s great library for a real project (rather than to take a tour).

My hazy memory tells me I had to figure out something other than the Dewey decimal system. I might be wrong there. I filled out little paper slips. Waited, sitting at my assigned desk in that glorious reading room, in that building with all the books ever printed (well, ever printed and copyrighted in the U.S.). To me, a palace. I wasn’t a book writer then, but I was a big book reader. My materials were found somewhere in the depths of the library and delivered to me. I read and took notes. Learned why the press had stumbled when it came to going after McCarthy’s big lie—that there were communists everywhere in American society. It was because they had to chase all his little lies—there’s ten over there in that government department, fifteen over here. Getting past all the smoke took, did take, hard work to get at the hard facts.

Though I’m not Taylor, I did chase a good many stories of all shapes and sizes in my career, some that officials or executives didn’t want reported. The lessons from my McCarthy research became core to my work as a journalist. Get the facts. Stay focused on the big picture, not the sideshow.

No surprise, facts are a kind of religion for Taylor. If he gets the facts, he can figure out a crime. He isn’t much for quoting historical figures, but he has memorized one thing John Adams said. “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Would Taylor go to the Library of Congress in pursuit of a story? He’d go anywhere, though for him (unlike me) not for the glory of the building, but the chance of finding a key detail. (The Library has a connection with the most important investigative story of the last century. Woodward and Bernstein plowed through file cards there in their pursuit of a lead in the Watergate investigation. The scene is in the book and the movie. That’s another story, and perhaps another reason I went up there in 1979.)

Taylor well understands the big lie, for it is the tool of all murderers. The villain will use any and all sorts of little lies to distract from the biggest one of all—that he or she didn’t do the killing. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

A Reckoning in the Back Country by Terry Shames

I don't know about you, but I'm a big fan of Police Chief Samuel Craddock of Jarrett Creek, Texas. The small town lawman is authentic and believable as he deals with crimes in the small community. In Terry Shames' latest mystery, A Reckoning in the Back Country, Craddock isn't sure what he's dealing with.

It's the police chief who has to handle calls in a small department over the Thanksgiving holidays. One officer is out of town and one is sick, so Craddock responds to the report of a missing man. Dr. Lewis Wilkins hasn't returned home, and his wife didn't expect him to disappear with the adult children arriving for the holiday. It's two young boys who stumble across the body in the woods. To Craddock, it appears that the man was attacked by animals. It's the local vet who said dogs killed him. With reports of missing family pets, and Craddock's discovery of a small pup in the woods, it's natural that accounts of dog fighting swirl around the community. What did Dr. Wilkins get himself into?

Dr. Lewis Wilkins was into more than his wife knew. She knows he lost a malpractice suit and his practice. She doesn't know about his gambling. Craddock uncovers other information about Wilkins' financial dealings. Dog fighting? Gambling? An angry former patient? Wilkins wasn't just one more of the wealthy part-time residents on the lake. Someone wanted him dead.

Shames' latest mystery is realistic, but it has touches of humor. And, Samuel Craddock is as believable as a fictional character can be with his problems with a new woman in his life and his hesitation to take on a puppy. It's those stories, along with the coffee shop and Craddock's neighbors who add humanity to the story of a small town police chief's investigations.

Yes, Shames always deals with issues that are larger than a small town in her books. But, those of us who are fans undoubtedly return for the stories of Samuel Craddock and his neighbors. This time, there may reports of missing dogs, dog fights, and gambling, but there are also stories of a puppy and a little romance. It's all in A Reckoning in the Back Country.

Terry Shames' website is

A Reckoning in the Back Country by Terry Shames. Seventh Street Books. 2018. ISBN 9781633883673 (paperback), 272p.

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

Sunday, January 07, 2018

The Devil's Claw by Lara Dearman

The format of today's review may look a little odd. I originally intended this review to be for a journal, only to discover this title had already been assigned to someone else. Why waste a good review? This is formatted for that journal. However, saying that, Lara Dearman's The Devil's Claw was a strong, fascinating debut. If you like the exotic setting of Ann Cleeves' Shetland Island mysteries, give Guernsey Island a try, with it's setting, myths, and history.

After she's violently attacked while working on a story in London, journalist Jenny Dorey returns home to Guernsey Island. But, when she tracks down screams, she's thrust into the investigation of a suspicious death. After intensive research, Jenny forces Detective Chief Inspector Michael Gilbert to confront a policeman's worst fears. A serial killer may have been murdering young women for decades on the island, and the police never caught the pattern.

Dearman's writing and turn of phrase is thoughtful. There are paragraphs that caught my attention. When Gilbert looks at the other police, he notices. "They were all scared. Not of injury or death - at least, not always, but of failure." Then, there's Jenny, evaluating her decision to return to Guernsey. "Ironic really, that this was where she had come to escape her past. Because that was the thing about Guernsey: your past followed you, bumped into you, waved hello. There was no running from it, no hiding. You had to smile at it pleasantly instead."

This exceptional debut is one of those rare novels with multiple appeals to readers. It's an intense mystery that builds to a gripping conclusion. The atmospheric, suspenseful story plays with island myths and history, creating a strong sense of place. The stories of three haunted characters; Jenny, DCI Gilbert, and the killer, converge in an account that is compelling. The unusual island setting, dexterous writing, and flawed characters should appeal to the many readers of Ann Cleeves' Shetland Island series.

Lara Dearman's website is

The Devil's Claw by Lara Dearman. Crooked Lane Books, 2018. ISBN 9781683314561 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Fourteen Years and Counting

Happy Anniversary to all of us!

Fourteen years ago today, I started Lesa's Book Critiques. It wasn't called that at the time. It was originally called "Nikki's World". After I had reviewed for a while, Maddee James suggested I needed a name for the blog that sounded more like a book blog.

I've told this story before. The Glendale Library System sent me to a three day workshop. I told the director afterwards that I didn't get a lot out of it, but I did learn how to blog. Who knew that workshop would lead to one of the most important pieces of my life?

Here's the very first blog post.

Nikki's World is named for the new kitten we took in the Tuesday before Christmas when she was one of six kittens dumped behind our Main Library in a gift-wrapped box. She's a little Desert Lynx/Tabby combination who weighed just over a pound when we brought her home. Since she was a library cat, as were Lammie and Dickens, our cats born behind our bookshelf, it seems appropriate to call this Nikki's World for a site devoted to books.

And, here's Nikki, fourteen years later.

Hopefully, my blog posts have improved a little since that first one in 2005. The very first book I reviewed here was 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. It's still a book and movie that I love.

So, Happy Anniversary to us. Thank you to all of you who have been reading with me and commenting here. And, I wish, for all of us, another year of good books.

Scones and Scoundrels by Molly MacRae

If you haven't read Molly MacRae's first Highland Bookshop mystery, Plaid and Plagiarism, it might take a little time to become familiar with her amateur sleuths in the second book. Scones and Scoundrels takes readers to Inversgail, Scotland, where Janet Marsh and her daughter, Tallie, along with their business partners, operate Yon Bonnie Books, a tea room and a bed-and-breakfast. And, because they once solved a murder case, everyone assumes they will again.

Who knew an author-in-residence could stir up so much trouble? Everyone was excited when the high school won a grant to bring in an author for three months. Daphne Wood, who once lived in Inversgail, now lives in a cabin in the Canadian woods. She's an icon as an environmentalist. But, before she even arrives, she's stirring up trouble with her list of demands for her signings at the library and the bookshop. Then, she shows up in town early, with a dog, so new living arrangements are required. When she insults people at her first local appearance, Janet and her friends are afraid this is going to be a disaster. But, it only gets worse.

Daphne learned about a death behind the local pub. Because she knows Janet and her partners once solved a murder case, she pushes them to investigate, and wants to be included. Although Janet refuses, even the nosy author next door assumes the group is looking for answers. It's only when there's another murder that the small group of sleuths realize they better look into the case. Since everyone in town assumes they know more than they do, they could be the next targets of a killer.

While I liked Janet and Tallie, at times I found it difficult to place their partners. Scones and Scoundrels had an excellent cast of secondary characters, though, quirky residents of the small town. But, the book was a little too slow-paced for my taste. Saying that, fans of mysteries set in bookstores, or Paige Shelton's Scottish Bookshop mysteries might want to try this series.

Molly MacRae's website is

Scones and Scoundrels by Molly MacRae. Pegasus Crime. 2018. ISBN 9781681776200 (hardcover), 320p.

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