Wednesday, October 31, 2018

What Are You Reading?

I know. We're a day early, so I hope everyone finds the post and tells us what you're reading. Tomorrow is November 1, so Treasures in My Closet will be up. If I'd remembered last Thursday, I would have reminded everyone.

I'm starting Jenny Colgan's Christmas on the Island, a novel set on a remote Scottish island. I finished the third in Heather Graham's recent Krewe of Hunters trilogy, Echoes of Evil. And, the real reason I read both of them? Susan Orlean is breaking my heart with her latest, The Library Book. I know it's going to get easier to read, but I found myself gasping and tearing up as I read the first 35 pages, the actual account of the fire at the LA Public Library. I was reading it on my lunch hour, and I was getting too choked up. I needed a couple novels. I'll get back to The Library Book.

What are you reading this week? Would you share?

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Libby Fischer Hellmann - Author Interview

I can't tell you how many times I've hosted Libby Fischer Hellmann at a library, or heard her speak at other venues. She's written a guest post about libraries for this blog. But, I've never actually interviewed her. It's time. Libby has a new Georgia Davis mystery, High Crimes, so it's a perfect time to talk with her. Thanks, Libby, for answering questions.
Photo Credit: Michael Candee, First Light Creative

Libby, As long as we’ve known each other, I’ve never done a Q&A with you. You’ve written for the blog, but it’s been a few years. Would you reintroduce yourself to readers?

Hi, Lesa and her readers. I’ve known Lesa for at least 10-15 years when she was still in Arizona. Not sure how we avoided doing an interview, but I’m thrilled we’re doing one now. Short version: I am an award-winning Chicago crime thriller author, and HIGH CRIMES is my 15th novel. I’ve also written about 25 short stories and novellas. I used to work in broadcast news, and then public relations, and I grew up in Washington DC many years ago. I was the National President of Sisters in Crime ten years ago, and I interview other authors on a streaming TV show called SOLVED!.

Please introduce us to Georgia Davis.

I write two series (as well as historical thrillers). Chicago PI Georgia Davis, a former cop, is the protagonist of one series. HIGH CRIMES is #5 in the series. When you first meet Georgia in EASY INNOCENCE, the 1st in the series, you’ll find she’s a loner. She’s recovering from a love affair gone bad, she has baggage, and she doesn’t trust easily. While my other protagonist, video producer Ellie Foreman, will go to lunch with you and give you TMI about herself, Georgia won’t go out to lunch with you at all. However, over the five books, Georgia slowly undergoes changes in her life, which I won’t ruin for you here. Above all, Georgia has a finely tuned sense of justice, and she’s not afraid of threats or bruises. One caveat: the books are dark, sometimes hard-boiled. Definitely not cozy.

Tell us about High Crimes, without spoilers.    

It’s fourteen months after the 2016 election and a robust Resistance movement has targeted the man who assumed the Presidency. At a demonstration in Grant Park, the leader of a Resistance FB group is assassinated. The gunman dies in an explosion shortly afterwards. The family of the dead girl asks Georgia to investigate after they receive an anonymous email questioning the gunman’s “guilt.” Her investigation takes her from Chicago, to Washington DC, to a Minnesota lake and back. At the same time Georgia’s mother, who abandoned her when Georgia was young, returns to Chicago, and Georgia must confront all her unresolved family issues.

What inspired High Crimes?

Rage. Not about conservative policies—in fact, I’ve become more conservative as I age—but about the man who now occupies the Oval Office and what I believe is the fraudulent way he was elected. I couldn’t write, I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t do much of anything except read and vent. (I lost FB friends because of it). I also joined a FB group whose founder and members felt similarly. After about a year, I realized I was giving him way too much power over me, and I began to think about writing again. It was one night when I was reading the posts from the FB group that the idea came to me: What if the founder of an Anti-Trump FB group was murdered? I knew immediately from the spark in my gut that THIS WAS THE STORY I HAD TO WRITE. So I did.
Everyone has different publishing stories, and I know yours has changed over the years. Would you tell us about your publishing journey?

In a word – it’s been a roller coaster. I started out at Berkeley Prime Crime with my Ellie Foreman series. Those novels were simultaneously published in hard cover by Poisoned Pen Press. Then I moved to Bleak House for the first 2 Georgia novels. Then to Allium Press of Chicago for 2 historical stand-alones, then back to Poisoned Pen for a fifth Ellie book. Along the way, I also wrote several indie thrillers, filling in the Georgia series and publishing a collection of my short stories. So I’m now a hybrid author. Which has been fun (I’m a Type A personality)… but it’s also a lot of work. The advantage is that I know a lot about publishing. Which should have made me a genius, except that the industry is constantly changing, so just when I think I have it down, everything turns inside-out, and I need to start over. Hopefully, that means I’m a survivor. I think.

Would you tell us about “Second Sunday Crime”?

That show is on hiatus because I’m now doing a streaming TV interview show for the Author’s Voice network. My show is SOLVED! and I interview crime fiction authors, both local and national. The only requirement is that they need to be in Chicago when we do the interview. We broadcast on Facebook Live, then the recording stays up on FB. It also migrates to YouTube. It’s allowed Author’s Voice to vastly expand its audience, and people seem to like the shows. I’m finishing up my second year with them. They operate out of the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop in Chicago, which, speaking of Chicago sights, is a fascinating place to visit.

I have a personal question. Where do you like to take people when they come to visit Chicago?

Great question, Lesa! Beyond the typical sites like Sears Tower, Millennium Park, the Art Museum, and a boat tour on Lake Michigan or the Chicago River, I would go to the Museum of Science and Industry. Then we’d get deep dish pizza at Uno’s. Then we’d go to a Blues joint, like Buddy Guy’s Legends.  The next day we’d go to the Bahai Temple in Wilmette and the Botanic Gardens in Glencoe. They’re both magnificent settings.  

What authors influenced you?

There are so many it’s hard to narrow them down. I’m more partial to modern authors, so Sara Paretsky, Val McDermid, Tess Gerritsen, and Karin Slaughter would be in the first tier. More literary writers like Jodi Picoult, Kate Atkinson, and Kristin Hannah as well. If I could spend a year just reading, I’d be in heaven.

What author or book do you think is underappreciated?

Jeremiah Healy, who is no longer with us, wrote a fabulous series with a Boston PI, Cuddy. I loved that series and wish it was ongoing. THE STAKED GOAT was especially good.

Libby, what’s next in the pipeline for you?

Interesting question. I’m not sure. I’m thinking about a new Ellie Foreman mystery (that’s my other series for your readers who don’t know)… BUT… I’m going to Vietnam and Cambodia next March. Since I was alive, and more important, sentient during the Vietnam war, I may have to write a historical novel set largely in Vietnam during the war. We’ll see.

Thank you, Libby!

Libby Fischer Hellmann's website is

High Crimes by Libby Fischer Hellmann. The Red Herrings, 2018. ISBN 9781938733956 (paperback), 329p.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Sunday's Trip

There's no actual blog today. Yesterday, a friend and I went to Nashville for an event sponsored by Parnassus Books. Doris Kearns Goodwin spoke about her new book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times, and she was interviewed by Jon Meacham. I don't have a report. It was a 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. trip. But, just wanted to let you know where I was, and why there is no piece today. Thanks! Tomorrow's blog is already to go, so I'll "see" you then.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Pale as Death by Heather Graham

I can always count on Heather Graham's Krewe of Hunters books to allow me to escape. Pale as Death, with its connection to a mysterious historical murder, is a fascinating romantic suspense novel.

When Detective Sophie Manning and her partner Grant Vining respond to a crime scene in Hollywood, they know it will be an unusual one. Their team tends to handle the vicious and strange cases. But, this one, with a woman's body drained of blood, and dismembered, resembles one of the most famous unsolved murders in Hollywood, the Black Dahlia case. Elizabeth Short was brutally murdered and dismembered. Now, someone has killed a young actress who resembles Elizabeth Short, and the killing resembles the earlier death as well.

It's Sophie herself, though, that catches the attention of the McFadden family. She's the spokesperson for the case, and Bryan McFadden and his fiancé, Marnie, worked with Sophie when Marnie was threatened. Now, Bryan is preparing to attend training at Quantico for the Krewe of Hunters, so he can't offer help. Instead, they send Bruce, Bryan's brother and a private investigator who also sees ghosts. They all saw a ghost on the screen as Sophie addressed reporters, and they could tell she saw the ghost as well.

Sophie doesn't want to admit she's seeing the ghost of a journalist. The only other time she saw a ghost, her family put her into therapy. But, Bruce forces her to admit it when he claims he has a "gift". It will take time for her to trust him, but McFadden is determined to work with and protect the detective he's grown to admire.

It wouldn't be a romantic suspense novel without the romance between Sophie Manning and Bruce McFadden. However, even as a device in a novel, the mystery of the Black Dahlia case is the main attraction. While the current crime is solved by the end of the book, all of the questions and suppositions about the unsolved Black Dahlia case remain. Who killed Elizabeth Short?

Pale as Death, with its ghosts, romance, and connections to the past is another fascinating entry in Graham's Krewe of Hunters series.

Heather Graham's website is

Pale as Death by Heather Graham. MIRA, 2018. ISBN 9780778368731 (hardcover), 316p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Six Cats a Slayin' by Miranda James

I tried to hold off. I really did. But, it's so hard to wait until after Halloween to read books set at Christmas when they're showing up in the mail. It was impossible to resist the cover of Miranda James' latest Cat in the Stacks mystery, Six Cats a Slayin'. So, before the book review, kudos to Dan Craig, the artist who did the cover art. Once in a while, I think it's appropriate to recognize the cover artist.

It's almost Christmas in Athena, Mississippi. Librarian Charlie Harris doesn't feel in the Christmas spirit, though, when he encounters his new neighbor, Geraldine Albritton. She's a little too enthusiastic and flirtatious for the staid Charlie. Something seems off about her, and Charlie's co-worker Melba Gilley agrees. Geraldine claims to be from Athena, but Melba doesn't recognize her, and Melba knows the history of everyone in town. Although Charlie does his best to ignore Geraldine, he agrees to attend her Christmas get-together, hoping to learn more.

In the meantime, he has plenty to keep him busy. He's now the doting grandfather of two, although Charlie's daughter-in-law is struggling to be the perfect new mother. And, Charlie and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, have their own new little ones. Someone leaves five young kittens on Charlie's front step, with a note in a child's handwriting, saying someone threatened to drown them. It's all Charlie can do to contain the active kittens, and Diesel has his job cut out for him as he acts as a babysitter for the cats, all named after literary characters.

Even with cuddly kittens and babies around, Charlie loves a good puzzle. First, he tries to learn the history of his neighbor. But, her sudden death at her own party causes him to dive into the search for her identity and her past. The police may be on the  job, but so is Charlie Harris.

As always, Miranda James' mysteries are charming, character-driven puzzles that offer a chance for a librarian puzzle lover to delve into past secrets. There may be a murder, but Charlie's story is often heartwarming and hopeful, once he gets past the drama of a murder. As Charlie and Diesel expand their family, the reader finds room in their heart for new characters, and, in this case, new kittens. Six Cats a Slayin' is a comfortable mystery for any season.

Miranda James' website is

Six Cats a Slayin' by Miranda James. Berkley Prime Crime, 2018. ISBN 9780451491091 (hardcover), 294p.

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

Friday, October 26, 2018

Winners and a "Fall" in a Cozy Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Copies of Die Me a River are going to Jana B. of Tigard, OR, Sue F. from Crosslake, MN and Lisa G. of Pensacola Beach, FL. The copies of Last Call are going to Daniel M. of Weymouth, MA, Jim G. from Prescott, AZ and Taylor W. from Kalispell, MT. The books are going out today.

This week, I'm giving away 2 cozy mysteries with autumn settings. Auralee Wallace's Haunted Hayride with Murder is set in New Hampshire as leaves change and Erica Bloom enjoys apple cider and cozy sweaters. She isn't quite as excited when some local teens discover a dead man's foot bones in a boat. And, the bones belong to a long-gone local with scandalous connections to an apple orchard rumored to be haunted by a witch.

In Livia J. Washburn's Death Bakes a Pecan Pie, it's time for the Harvest Festival in Weatherford, Texas. Phyllis is determined to bake a killer pecan pie. But, she might be sidetracked. Hollywood comes to town as a movie company arrives to shoot scenes for a film based on the novel by Phyllis' friend Eve. However movie fantasy turns to deadly reality as a murder recreated for film turns out to be the genuine article, and Phyllis and her friends have to tackle another complex case.

Which mystery 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 Haunted Hayride" or "Win Pecan Pie." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Nov. 1 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

What Are You Reading?

It's Thursday! Time to talk books (although I'm always willing to talk books). What are you reading today?

By the time this posts on Thursday, I'll have read about fifty pages in Dean James' tenth Cat in the Stacks Mystery series. Six Cats A Slayin' is set in the Christmas season, as you can tell by the title. And, it has one of the best cat covers I've seen. David Rosenfelt has the best dog covers, in my opinion. As I write this, I don't have much to say except librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, take in five kittens who were left on the porch. Other than that, I know there are problems with Charlie's new neighbor. Since I don't like reading the book flaps because they give away too much of the mystery, that's all I know at the moment.

What are you reading this week?  We're interested. And, for those of you who prefer dogs over cats, I've also posted the cover of Rosenfelt's new book, Deck the Hounds.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

David Carlson, Guest Blogger

Today, David Carlson is my guest blogger and author. He's the author of three mysteries featuring
Christopher Worthy, a Detroit police detective, and Father Nicholas Fortis, a Greek Orthodox monk. I reviewed his second book in the series, Let the Dead Bury the Dead, in September 2017,

Now, as to David Carlson's guest post. A couple weeks ago, twelve authors wrote about the libraries they love for an article in The New York Times, Carlson wrote a piece for us about libraries. Thank you, David.


David Carlson

                I think it was Voltaire who wrote that entering a library always humbled him.  Since I was a boy, entering a library has given me a different feeling—excitement.  Perhaps if I’d thought more about it, I would have felt intimidated by all the knowledge stored on the shelves.  But as a boy, I felt a sense of adventure whenever I visited our town’s Carnegie library.  It didn’t matter to me if the adventure was fictional or factual in the books I read. 

                In grade school, I remember being particularly attracted to a series of biographies for young readers.  The covers were all a light orange, and the illustrations were all black silhouettes.  I think I read the entire series, but whether that is true or not, the most important lesson I learned from the series is that a person will likely have to struggle to attain a meaningful life, but such a life is the only one worth pursuing.  That was true whether I was reading a biography of Galileo, Lincoln, Madame Curie, or Helen Keller. 

                In middle school and high school, I dove into historical fiction.  Two books that I remember fondly are Thomas B. Costain’s The Silver Chalice and Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.  The first is set in the first century of the Christian era, the second in early 19th century France.  Both books were thick and weighty, but that didn’t bother me.  When I opened those pages, I was transported from my northern Illinois hometown, where life seemed so predictable, to the Roman Empire or a dungeon on a Mediterranean island.  Now that was exciting. 

                In my youth, the economic realities of my family meant that traveling overseas wasn’t a possibility.  But that little tan library card in my wallet made it possible for me, using my imagination, to travel all over the world and jump back and forth in time.  Later, in my adult life, when travel became a possibility, I had no difficulty deciding where I wanted to visit.  I traveled to see some of the places I’d read about, and when I did, I felt that I wasn’t seeing those places for the first time but rather revisiting them. 

                When I look in my wallet, I know that I can get by without much that I store there.  Money and credit cards are important, but I have lived happily with little money and without a credit card.  But my library card?  No, I can’t live happily without that.  I feel a chill when I think how under different circumstances I might have grown up unable to read or far from a library.  That would have been a life with little wonder and adventure, a life confined to just the present moment in which I was living. 
I have no doubt that my love affair with books and libraries led me to become a writer.  Given that books were a kind of passport inviting me to travel and encounter new people and cultures from far and near, I began to wonder if I might be able to offer that same experience for others.  When I started to write, I was surprised that I wasn’t intimidated by the prospect.  The blank page didn’t frighten me or frustrate me; instead, I remembered that every book I’d ever read began with a blank page. 

                Were my first attempts at writing worth much?  No, but I felt a thrill just to be trying.  And the more I wrote, the more words and phrases seemed to magically come to mind.  What was the source of that magic?  I’m sure it was all the books I’d read from kindergarten onward.  It was like every word I’d ever read had been deposited in some language bank account, and when I began writing my own books, I could withdraw from that account.

                One of my proudest moments as a writer came in 2011, when Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World (Thomas Nelson) was selected by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of 2011 in the category of Spiritual Living.  Nothing pleased me more than knowing that, because of this endorsement, my first book would be in libraries across the country. 

                 Now, as I continue to write both fiction and non-fiction, I feel I am giving back to libraries a small portion of what they have given me over a lifetime.       

Thank you, David. And, that series of children's biographies. I read them, too. Yes, The Childhood of Famous Americans series was orange with black silhouettes in the public library I used as well. Wonderful books, weren't they?


The third book in Carlson's series is Let These Bones Live Again. Here's the description of
that book, as it appears in the Web Store for Poisoned Pen Bookstore.    

Allyson Worthy, daughter of the renowned homicide detective Christopher Worthy, always dreamt of living in Venice. Now, as a college student, she's landed a dream internship with the Venice police. She assumes she will be investigating minor crimes perpetrated on gullible American and English tourists. On the first day of her internship, however, Allyson is assigned to assist with a more bizarre case--the apparent suicides of two wealthy Americans in the city. Linking the two persons are their similar cancer diagnoses and strange incisions on their bodies.

The family of the second victim, a Detroit automaker, doubt the suicide verdict and hire Christopher Worthy to look into the death. Allyson's relationship with her father is tenuous, and she resents his intrusion into her dream summer.

After speaking at a conference in Rome, Father Nicholas Fortis is asked by the Vatican to look into the recent theft of relics, bones of saints, from Venetian churches. Father Fortis is happy to offer whatever advice he can to the case Christopher and Allyson Worthy are working on, even as the two Worthys are happy to advise Father Fortis on the stolen relics case.

An unexpected breakthrough reveals a dark undercurrent in the city of canals that changes approaches to both cases. As clues fall into place, Allyson is unexpectedly put in danger as she unknowingly agrees to rendezvous with the killer. 

Book 3 in the Christopher Worthy/Father Fortis Mystery Series.

David Carlson's website is

Let These Bones Live Again by David Carlson. Coffeetown Press, 2018. ISBN 9781603813938 (paperback), 190p.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Rain Watcher by Tatiana De Rosnay

I hate to repeat the words that appear on an ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy). But, Tatiana De Rosnay's latest novel, The Rain Watcher, truly is heartbreaking. It's an emotional book about one family, caught up in their own secrets at a time of disaster. It's also beautiful.

At thirty-five, Linden Malegarde is the youngest in his family. An internationally known photographer, he's witness to his family's reunion. His mother, Lauren, insists that only the immediate family meets up in Paris. Linden and his older sister, Tilia, are joining their father, Paul, and Lauren. It's a celebration of Paul's seventieth birthday, and Paul and Lauren's fortieth wedding anniversary. But, the celebration doesn't come about exactly as planned.

It's been raining for two weeks in Paris when the family arrives in January. There's no sign of it letting up, and Lauren is upset that all of her plans are falling apart. While Linden and Tilia worry about their father's appearance, Lauren brushes it off. By the time Paul collapses in a restaurant, Lauren herself is falling ill. While Tilia tends to their mother, it's Linden who accompanies Paul in the ambulance. And, it's Linden, who loves Paris, who is the witness to the city's collapse, and his father's.

Paris is flooding. Museums are shut down. Metro stations are closing. Everyone is talking about the Zouave statue in the Seine. Flood precautions have been taken because the waters on the statue are only going higher. The neighborhoods around Paris have been hit hard by the floods. Tourists have been asked to leave, but Linden, who spent his teen years living with his aunt in Paris, knows he can't leave. He can't desert his father, his family, or the city itself.

As the city floods, the Malegarde family is also flooded with memories, and they're not happy ones. This family who seldom hugged, who grew apart, has secrets. As the city breaks down, the family starts to reveal their failings and their losses to Linden. "It seems to him he has become a sentinel, on the lookout for the inevitable aquatic invasion, watching over his father, over the rain, over the entire city."

Linden Malegarde may view his father, a man famous for saving trees, as the heart of the family. But, it's Linden himself who becomes the heart of the story. He's been hurt in the past, and fled the family home because of the community. His mother hurt him. He suffered from the loss of his beloved aunt. But, Linden has also been saved by people who love him. And, that love is enough to keep him moving forward in this beautiful, tragic story.

The Rain Watcher is a powerful, sometimes brutal story of Paris during a disaster. It's also the story of the Malegarde family, a family with its own story, sometimes brutal. But, like Paris, they struggle to overcome tragedy. De Rosnay's The Rain Watcher is heartwrenching at times, but worth the struggle.

Tatiana De Rosnay's website is

The Rain Watcher by Tatiana De Rosnay. St. Martin's Press, 2018. ISBN 9781250099136 (hardcover), 240p.

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

Monday, October 22, 2018

J.J. Hensley - Author Interview

I always enjoy author interviews, and I hope readers do as well. I have an opportunity to meet, and introduce you to authors who might be new to us, even if they've been writing for a while. Today, J.J. Hensley has answers to some of my questions. Hensley's latest crime novel is Record Scratch. Thank you, J.J.

J.J., what can you tell us about your background without then having to kill us to keep it secret?

Surprisingly, my background isn’t really secret at all! What I can’t always get into is the methodology surrounding the duties I performed.

I grew up in West Virginia, graduated from Penn State, and served a few years as a police officer in Chesterfield County, Virginia before I got hired on as a Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service. During my first couple of years with the Secret Service, I worked out of the Richmond, VA Field Office and conducted investigations into criminal activities such as counterfeiting, check fraud, and other economic crimes. However, during the time I was assigned to the Richmond office I was also traveling quite a bit to protect the President, Vice President, former Presidents, and foreign heads of state.

Eventually, I transferred to the Washington Field Office where I primarily worked protection assignments and something called Protective Intelligence, which is investigating threat cases. After the Washington Field Office, I moved over to the agency’s Intelligence Division where I did advance work ahead of Presidential trips and conducted threat assessments and interviewed those who might have a special interest in the President. I also spent a lot of time assessing and classifying individuals to determine how serious of a threat they might present to one of our protectees. I did a lot of other stuff dealing with Technical Security (looking for things that go “BOOM”) as well, but that’s the gist of my experience in the Secret Service. After that, I moved to Pittsburgh, PA where I helped train federal background investigators. Now I work for another government agency, I live near Savannah, Georgia, and I’m based at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center near the Georgia coast. Life is good!

Would you introduce us to Trevor Galloway?

Trevor is my favorite out of the protagonists I’ve created. He’s a former Pittsburgh narcotics detective who, through no fault of his own, became addicted to heroin and then pills. The police department let him go and he ended up being an unlicensed private investigator. I gave him his first private job in a novel called Bolt Action Remedy and readers really took to him, although I wasn’t sure that would be the case because he’s stoic, can have a quiet temper, and is extremely complicated. Due to past trauma he’s experienced, his battle with addiction, and some other factors, he’s got this itsy-bitsy problem with seeing the occasional hallucination. This creates all sorts of problems when he’s got people after him or believes he witnessed a crime. Although he’s honest to a fault, he’s not always the most trustworthy protagonist. 

Tell us about Record Scratch, without spoilers.    

Trevor Galloway has been hired to solve the homicide of 1980s rock and roll legend Jimmy Spartan. Spartan’s sister not only wants the killer found, but wants Galloway to recover her brother’s final recordings which consist of twelve songs on a vinyl record. Spartan’s sister meets with Galloway, hands him his payment, and the promptly kills herself. Out of a feeling of obligation more than anything, Galloway begins to look into the cold case and quickly finds himself immersed in part of the music business few ever consider. He makes new enemies, meets a few old rivals, and is reunited with an old flame. Of course, he’s not exactly certain which ones are real.

Record Scratch is divided into 12 Tracks (Chapters) and each song tells part of Jimmy Spartan’s final story while the title hints at the action that will play out in the chapter.

As humans, we’re all flawed, but you seem drawn to flawed heroes. Why?

One of the main reasons I began writing was because I was tired of reading books in which the good guys were 100% good and the bad guys were 100% evil. I strive for authenticity in every chapter I put together. If a career in law enforcement and national security has taught me anything it’s that there is a lot of gray space in the world and decent people make huge mistakes. It’s weird. Sometimes, I find myself more comfortable around people I know are a bit shady because at least I know what to expect. People who seem too perfect make me wary. I don’t know of any adult who is completely good and I never trust a saint.

Everyone’s publishing journey is different. Would you tell us about yours?

Luck, luck, luck.

In 2010, I cranked out a novel titled Resolve. I think the first draft took me about three months to complete and I had queries out to agents after five or six months. By the end of the year, I had an agent and by January of the next year I had a deal with a small press. The book got great reviews, but wasn’t making many waves until it got named as a Thriller Award finalist for Best First Novel. Then came a Suspense Magazine award and some other accolades. That led me to another book deal which eventually led me to my current publisher, Down and Out Books. So, basically every novel I’ve written has ended up being traditionally published. I would love to say it happened because of an abundance of talent, but there are so many great writers out there who have fantastic manuscripts rejected by large and small publishers and then there are some highly-questionable manuscripts that end up being placed with one of the major publishers. So, I consider myself extremely fortunate.

What has been the highlight of your crime fiction career so far?

I’m tempted to say the Thriller Awards ceremony. I should say the Thriller Awards ceremony. But, my highlight hasn’t happened yet. I know I have a readership out there. I know there are people who buy my books. However, I have never—not once—walked into an airport or Starbucks to see someone reading one of my novels. Never. I really want that to happen although I don’t know why.

One time I was at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh and I was sure I saw a guy carrying a hard cover copy of Resolve from the café. I nearly pulled a hamstring chasing that guy down. By the time I caught up and got close to him, I realized it was some non-fiction history book. Damnit! I probably wouldn’t have even said anything to him if he would have had my book, but… DAMNIT! In the meantime, I keep trying to convince all those people with iPads and Kindles in front of them at Panera are reading my books, but I know they’re probably playing Candy Crush or watching porn. DAMNIT!

What’s in the pipeline for you right now?

I’m working on what will be the third Trevor Galloway novel, currently titled Forgiveness Dies on the Vine. It should come out sometime in late 2019. I also occasionally write short stories that end up in anthologies and I’ve got one of those that will be published in an anthology sometime in 2019.

What authors influenced you?

Every author I read influences me, for better or worse. As far as good influences, I would certainly want to mention Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, James Grady, John Verdon, Vince Flynn, Shannon Kirk, Gwen Florio, Jonathan Kellerman, and Joseph Finder.

What author or book do you think is underappreciated?

I’m a huge advocate for small press books because they are honestly some of the best and get very little marketing support. Anything from Down and Out Books, Midnight Ink, Crooked Lane Books, Polis Books, or any of the other truly independent publishers is likely more original than one will find with one of the Big Five publishers.

I’m a librarian, and I always end with this question. Do you have a story you can share about a library or librarian?

I owe librarians BIG TIME!

If it were not for librarians in western Pennsylvania, my sales numbers would be half of what they are. When I was first getting started in the business, I sent out emails to some of the libraries near where I was living in the Pittsburgh area. I mentioned I had a novel out and would be willing to come speak to book clubs or discussion groups, or whoever would listen to a first-time novelist. I spoke to a few small groups and then a library book club or two read my book. Then the librarian grapevine got to work. The next thing I knew I was in demand and never had any issue getting an event at a library in the Pittsburgh area. By the time my second novel came out, it wasn’t uncommon for me to show up at an event where I would speak to fifty or more people and then sell and sign books. It was amazing. Now I live the Savannah, Georgia area and hopefully I can establish a similar relationship with librarians here. 

Thank you, J.J.

J.J. Hensley's website is

Record Scratch by J.J. Hensley. Down & Out Books, 2018. ISBN 9781948235858 (paperback), 234p.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Hugs from Obama edited by M. Sweeney

This post isn't what I planned for today, but I received this book in the mail yesterday. It's a quick read. So many of us could use the book M. Sweeney edited, Hugs from Obama: A Photographic Look Back at the Warmth and Wisdom of President Barack Obama.

Hugs from Obama is a "photographic tribute to his compassion and warmth". There are pictures of the President with children, hugging John Lewis, meeting with the Dalai Lama, with his family. There are pictures you'll recognize, along with quotes from speeches he made throughout his presidency. The book includes lines from his speeches at conventions, from inaugural addresses, from his farewell address. The chapter titles emphasize the tone of the book; "Embracing a Legacy", "Leadership", "Unity", "Hope and Change", and "Progress".

In so many speeches, President Obama touched on the past while emphasizing the present, and, sometimes predicting the future. In fact, he seems to speak to the tone of the country right now. "Disagreement cannot mean dysfunction. It can't degenerate into hatred."

There's quite a contrast between the current man in the White House and "President Obama's enduring optimism and heartfelt concern for others". His gift for mourning with others and celebrating the future is evident in all the pictures. There's a warmth and generosity in his smile and words that is lacking right now.

Hugs from Obama is a charming gift book. It's a book for all of us who are mourning, or someone who needs a slight push of encouragement to keep going right now. President Obama had thoughtful words for so many situations. But, here are three words to remember in the next several weeks, and to  always keep in mind. "Don't boo, VOTE."

Hugs from Obama: A Photographic Look Back at the Warmth and Wisdom of President Barack Obama edited by M. Sweeney. Castle Point Books, 2018. ISBN 8781250201096 (hardcover), 122p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy of the book from the publisher, with no promises made that I would review it.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Midnight Ink

Many of you may have already heard from Midnight Ink authors or Terri Bischoff, acquisitions editor at Midnight Ink. The publisher is closing after the spring/summer 2019 season. Staff at Midnight Ink will lose their jobs, and so many authors will have to try to find a new home for their books.

So, today, I'm posting a reminder. This doesn't represent all of the authors or books from Midnight Ink. Check the website. This just represents the books I've reviewed in the last year that were published by them. You might want to watch for these books or the authors. There are some excellent selections here.

Last Call by Paula Matter -

The Negotiator by Brendan DuBois -

Hollywood Ending by Kellye Garrett -

Big Woods by May Cobb -

Beyond the Pale by Clare O'Donohue -

Fiction Can Be Murder by Becky Clark -

Scot Free by Catriona McPherson -

Deja Moo by Kirsten Weiss -

Other Midnight Ink authors, including award nominees, are Lisa Alber, Elizabeth Perona, Julia Thomas, Leslie Budewitz, Edith Maxwell, Nadine Neitman. There are many others. I'm sorry for Terri Bischoff, who acquired books by these authors. I'm sorry for the authors. And, I'm sorry for those of us who are readers.

Note to Midnight Ink authors: If you would like to write a guest post, in a positive vein, about your books or characters, or ask me to interview you for the blog anytime before next summer, please contact me. I'll be glad to discuss a date and topic with you. My email address is Your subject line should read Midnight Ink author. I might not get back to you immediately, but it will be soon after you write.  Good luck to all of you.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Winners and a Multiple Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Burning Ridge is going to Dianne C. from Elk Grove Village, IL, G.B. from East Lansing, MI, and Jane T. from West Linn, OR. Karen R. of Katy, TX and Sandie H. of Sarasota, FL won The Cats Came Back. The books went out on Wednesday.

This week, I'm giving away multiple copies of two mysteries. If you are a fan of debuts, you might want to enter to win Paula Matter's Last Call. It launches a terrific new character and series. Bartender Maggie Lewis is suspended from her job at a Florida VFW after someone kills an obnoxious customer, and sets Maggie up as a suspect. Since the local police never found her husband's killer, Maggie sets out to solve the case herself.

Die Me a River is the latest book in Denise Swanson's Welcome Back to Stumble River series. School psychologist Skye Denison-Boyd is on maternity leave with her newborn twins, but while she and her husband, Wally, are meeting with a priest about the christening, an explosion at the nearby bowling alley rocks the rectory. And, there's a body inside. As police chief, Wally is drawn into the investigation, but Skye does a little sleuthing of her own. There are all kinds of clues in this latest puzzle.

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 Last Call" or "Win Die Me a River." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, Oct. 25 at 5 PM CT.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

What Are You Reading?

"On the road again." I'm actually traveling today and tomorrow, so I won't be around to discuss books. Instead, I'll be in the car for about 5 1/2 hours each way. But, that doesn't mean you shouldn't take up the challenge. Let others know what you're reading or listening to. Maybe you'll have a discussion here. I hope you do. I'd love to catch up with it on Friday evening.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with an article. Jeff sent me the link from The New York Times for "12 Authors Write About the Libraries They Love". Of course, I found it moving. I hope you enjoy it.

I wish you a week of good reading!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

One of my book loving friends, Kay, blogs at Kay's Reading Life. She also comments on this blog on Thursdays when we do "What Are You Reading?" Kay recently suggested a book of essays called I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel. She mentioned it here, but she also reviewed it on her blog. I had to stop reading her review. I'll go back after I write this piece. But, she's right. This is such a perfect book for those of us who are avid readers that I bought four copies for friends.

Bogel opens by talking about this librarian's favorite question, "Can you recommend a good book?" The answer will be different for every reader, but it's a challenge to find your way to success. In chapter after chapter, she lists and addresses feelings readers share. Take the chapter "Bookworm Problems". Do you recognize any of these? "Your library holds all come in at the same time.""Your To Be Read list holds 8,972 titles, and you want to read every one. Your TBR list is unquestionably too long to finish before you die." "You have countless unread books at home, but you can't resist buying one more." Ah, the problems of a book addict.

How can you tear up reading about books? I managed, especially when I read the chapter "Take Me Back" when Bogel mourned that she didn't have the records for every library book she ever checked out. She says that list would capture where she was at various stages of her life, based on what she was reading. She knows even the titles and check-out dates would bring back memories.

Bogel's book is a small one, only 156 pages. But, for a reader, it's an affirmation of a passion. It's confirmation that we're not alone in that passion. There are kindred souls out there.

The dedication of I'd Rather Be Reading says, "For everyone who's ever finished a book under the covers with a flashlight when they were supposed to be sleeping." I think it's for all of us who would rather be reading than doing anything else in life. (And, if you want to read an excellent review of the book, check out Kay's blog.)

Anne Bogel's website is

I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life. Baker Books, 2018. ISBN 9780801072925 (hardcover), 156p.

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

November Road by Lou Berney

Lou Berney acknowledges his mother's love of a good story in his introduction to November Road. He discusses the many ways she influenced this novel, from her claim he was conceived the night John F. Kennedy was assassinated to her stories of a road trip and an epileptic dog. That introduction is enough to suck readers into this surprising story. It's just too bad the introduction was only in the ARC, not the actual book. I read the ARC, but agreed to participate in the blog tour for November Road because I think this is the book you need to read this fall.

Frank Guidry loves his life in New Orleans. He has gorgeous women, great food, power and influence, thanks to his role as a lieutenant to the powerful mob boss Carlos Marcello. But, Frank isn't stupid. It doesn't take him long to realize Marcello had something to do with President Kennedy's assassination. And, Guidry himself delivered a car to a spot close to Dealey Plaza just two weeks earlier. As some of Guidry's connections disappear, he realizes he's a link between Dallas and New Orleans. And, Frank's as disposable as the other people employed by Marcello. He runs.

Charlotte Roy is stuck in the small town of Woodrow, Oklahoma, where she knows everyone, and everyone knows her husband is a drunk. Her enjoyment in life comes from toying with a camera given to her by her employer, and spending time with her two young daughters, Joan and Rosemary. But, Thanksgiving is it for Charlotte. She can't take it anymore when she has to plead for extensions at the bank, and her husband just drinks away their money. She takes the girls and the dog. And, she runs.

Fate brings Frank and Charlotte together when he passes her on the road after her car breaks down. He's heading to Las Vegas where he hopes an old acquaintance who hates Marcello will help him. Charlotte is on her way to California where she hopes to start over. Frank realizes the assassin looking for him won't be searching for a family man with a wife and two kids. Frank's scheme to pair up with Charlotte, to help both of them, doesn't take a couple things into account. Charlotte is intelligent and funny. And, Frank never thought he'd grow to care about his new "family". Now, Frank may have to make an entire family disappear.

Berney's latest novel is a compelling story that pulls readers right along the road with Guidry. There's humor and tragedy, and loss. The country's loss of innocence is reflected in the lives of Berney's characters. Then, Berney doesn't give readers the expected ending.

Lou Berney's book is about the loss of innocence, but it's also about the impact of a crime. It's a story of the impact of history. There's a point where one of the characters realizes it's too late to stop the changes of the time period, Civil Rights, women's rights. The country was swept along by those changes. JFK's assassination had the same impact. It swept up people all over the country, bringing changes. Frank Guidry and Charlotte Roy are just two of the people swept up in the impact of that crime. They were swept right along in the moving story of November Road.

Lou Berney's website is

November Road by Lou Berney. William Morrow, 2018. ISBN 9780062663849 (hardcover), 320p.

FTC: After I begged for a copy, the publisher sent one.

About November Road
• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (October 9, 2018)
Set against the assassination of JFK, a poignant and evocative crime novel that centers on a desperate cat-and-mouse chase across 1960s America—a story of unexpected connections, daring possibilities, and the hope of second chances from the Edgar Award-winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone.
Frank Guidry’s luck has finally run out.
A loyal street lieutenant to New Orleans’ mob boss Carlos Marcello, Guidry has learned that everybody is expendable. But now it’s his turn—he knows too much about the crime of the century: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Within hours of JFK’s murder, everyone with ties to Marcello is turning up dead, and Guidry suspects he’s next: he was in Dallas on an errand for the boss less than two weeks before the president was shot. With few good options, Guidry hits the road to Las Vegas, to see an old associate—a dangerous man who hates Marcello enough to help Guidry vanish.
Guidry knows that the first rule of running is “don’t stop,” but when he sees a beautiful housewife on the side of the road with a broken-down car, two little daughters and a dog in the back seat, he sees the perfect disguise to cover his tracks from the hit men on his tail. Posing as an insurance man, Guidry offers to help Charlotte reach her destination, California. If she accompanies him to Vegas, he can help her get a new car.
For her, it’s more than a car— it’s an escape. She’s on the run too, from a stifling existence in small-town Oklahoma and a kindly husband who’s a hopeless drunk.
It’s an American story: two strangers meet to share the open road west, a dream, a hope—and find each other on the way.
Charlotte sees that he’s strong and kind; Guidry discovers that she’s smart and funny. He learns that’s she determined to give herself and her kids a new life; she can’t know that he’s desperate to leave his old one behind.
Another rule—fugitives shouldn’t fall in love, especially with each other. A road isn’t just a road, it’s a trail, and Guidry’s ruthless and relentless hunters are closing in on him. But now Guidry doesn’t want to just survive, he wants to really live, maybe for the first time.
Everyone’s expendable, or they should be, but now Guidry just can’t throw away the woman he’s come to love.
And it might get them both killed.
Social Media
Please use the hashtag #novemberroad and tag @williammorrowbooks and @tlcbooktours.
Purchase Links
© Brandon Michael Smith
About Lou Berney
Lou Berney is the author of three previous novels, Gutshot Straight, Whiplash River, and multiple prize-winning The Long and Faraway Gone. His short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. He lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Find out more about Lou at his website, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

I've read the second, and now the third Lady Sherlock mystery by Sherry Thomas. I'm afraid I'm just not the right audience for these books, although I'm a big fan of the original Sherlock Holmes stories and some of the pastiches. I found The Hollow of Fear difficult to follow at times, and I'm not as in love with Charlotte Holmes as many readers are. As I said, though, I think I'm not the right audience.

When Charlotte Holmes helps her half-brother escape from men who are after him, she senses there is a plot in motion. Her sister, Livia, is an unwitting pawn. Livia annually visits Mrs. Newell, a distant relative. When the cisterns fail at Mrs. Newell's house, all her guests move to Lord Ingram's estate, Stern Hollow. Livia is aware that all society speculates about Charlotte's friendship with Lord Ingram, guessing that it's more than friendship. Then Livia, along with two of the worst gossips in London, find Lady Ingram's body in the estate's icehouse.

The Chief Inspector sent from Scotland Yard does everything in his power to prove Lord Ingram killed his wife. At the same time, Charlotte goes undercover as Sherlock Holmes' brother to discover the truth about the murder.

This third in the series picks up exactly where A Conspiracy in Belgravia ended. That may be confusing to readers who have not read the books. It's leisurely paced, with careful development of the elaborate storyline. While it's an atmospheric story, it's also a thought-provoking view of the expectations and roles of women in Victorian England.

Fans of the series, and readers of Doyle's canon, especially The Valley of Fear, will appreciate the intricately plotted mystery. Others may find it difficult to follow. I'm not a fan of slow-moving novels that take a while to unfold. As I said before, that's my problem, not an issue with The Hollow of Fear.

Sherry Thomas' website is

The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas. Berkley, 2018. ISBN 9780425281420 (paperback), 336p.

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Next Person You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

If you read my blog on Thursday, you might have read Ron Charles' Washington Post review of this book. It was funny. But, I read Mitch Albom's The Next Person You Meet in Heaven. It's really directed at the same audience that made The Five People You Meet in Heaven a #1 bestseller.

In The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Eddie, a maintenance man at Ruby Pier amusement park, died saving a little girl from a cable that snapped on a ride. Now, twenty-five years later, Annie, that little girl, is a nurse. She's also a newlywed, for one day. That's not a spoiler. The author makes it obvious with an hour-by-hour countdown that it's the last day of Annie's life. But, throughout the book, readers meet the five people (used loosely) who changed or affected Annie's life. Readers see Annie's view of every situation. Most times, Annie thinks she made a mistake that caused a tragic result, but she's blocked out the accident that permanently damaged her hand. Annie views her life, even in death, as one big mistake.

Yes, I'll admit the book is overly sentimental. I found myself tearing up over a story about a dog. Albom's words are excessively flowery at times. Even before I read Charles' review, I thought this book was unnecessary. The first book seemed to have set the pattern, and, in some ways, this seemed repetitive. It was a totally different story, with a twist in the end. But, it still felt as if I had been on this journey before.

As I said, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven has a built-in audience. I'll be curious to see if or where it lands on the bestseller lists, and how long it stays there. It just wasn't as original as the first book.

Mitch Albom's website is

The Next Person You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. Harper, 2018. ISBN 9780062294449 (hardcover), 213p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Dig Your Grave by Steven Cooper

Darn. Once again, I discovered a series with the second book. You can start with Steven Cooper's Dig Your Grave, but if you like the Arizona setting and the characters, Gus Mills and Alex Parker, as much as I did, you'll wish you had started with Desert Remains.

Detective Alex Mills of the Phoenix Police Department needs help on his latest case. His team is called to a cemetery where the body of a well-dressed man has been found in an open grave. Mills, following a hunch, calls his friend Gus Parker. Gus is a psychic and Mills wants him to take a look at the scene. Gus often has a vision that will point them in the right direction, even if it's unclear at first.

Then, a second body is found, and the man appears to have dug his own grave. Both dead men were prominent in their field, and in Phoenix. While Mills' team digs to find a connection between the two victims, Gus goes missing. Parker's girlfriend is a famous rock star, and she can't locate him. It isn't like Gus to miss work at his day-to-day job. It isn't like him to not answer his phone. Detective Mills has to juggle family issues and look for Gus while trying to catch the killer who forces the victims to leave notes and dig their own graves.

Readers will appreciate the strong sense of place. While I recognized Phoenix locations, the descriptions are vividly drawn even for those who never lived in the area. Both lead characters are intriguing men with personal issues.

Dig Your Grave is a compelling, intense mystery. The intricately plotted story will appeal to fans of P.J. Tracy's Monkeewrench novels. (I still think you should start with Desert Remains, though.)

Steven Cooper's website is

Dig Your Grave by Steven Cooper. Seventh Street Books, 2018. ISBN 9781633884809 (paperback), 368p.

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Winners & A Dog & Cats Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Linda M. from Franklin, PA won Shelved Under Murder. Sara G. of Granite City, IL will receive Hitting the Books. The books went out in the mail yesterday.

I have one more week with an unusual schedule, so the time frame will be short again for the giveaway. And, I have multiple copies of both books. This contest will end Tuesday, October 16 at 5 PM CT. So, if you want to enter, do it soon.

First, a mystery featuring a dog. Burning Ridge is Margaret Mizushima's latest Timber Creek K-9 Mystery. And, I hadn't read the previous ones, so you can enter for this book even if you haven't read earlier ones in the series. Officer Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo are called in to spearhead the investigation when a charred body is discovered in a shallow grave on Colorado's Redstone Ridge. But, Mattie seems to have a personal connection to the dead man. When she goes missing, the local veterinarian teams up with Robo to find her as a fire races across the ridge.

Would you rather win a book about cats? The Cats Came Back is Sofie Kelly's latest Magical Cats Mystery. Librarian Kathleen Paulson and her quirky cats turn detective again when a music festival comes to town. Kathleen stumbles upon a dead body, a woman who was a close friend, and spitting image of a famous singer who is participating in the festival. Which woman was the real target of the killer?

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Let's make it easy since this is a fast contest. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Dog" or "Win Cats." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

As I said, this giveaway ends Tuesday, October 16 at 5 PM CT. Enter soon!

 humall town librarian Kathleen teams up with