Tuesday, January 22, 2019

A Day Off

I just read and reviewed seven mysteries in four days for a journal, so I'm going to beg off for today. I'll be back tomorrow with a book review, promise! (And, you'll be seeing six of those reviews in March and April. The other book? Forget about it.)

Monday, January 21, 2019

Below the Tree Line by Susan Oleksiw

Susan Oleksiw launches a fascinating new series with Below the Tree Line. It's probably the best book I've read so far this year, so I hope this series will continue since the book is published by Midnight Ink.

Felicity O'Brien is quite capable of running the family farm, as proven in the opening sentence. "On the third night Felicity lifted the shotgun from its place in the cabinet, and this time she loaded it." She makes a hardscrabble living on the Massachusetts farm, selling timber and vegetables, boarding sheep. She has to pay the taxes on the property while keeping her eighty-year-old father in a retirement home. Despite her hard work during the day, she knows someone has been on her property at night. But Police Chief Kevin Algren isn't happy that she's shooting over her woods at night.

When Jeremy Colson, her long-time partner, shows up at the farm the next morning, he brings a present from his mother. She's a volunteer who thinks Felicity needs a dog, although the small lab, Shadow, is afraid of his own shadow. Felicity doesn't feel she has time to take on one more project, but the dog turns out to be a valuable asset when he tracks and finds a young woman's body on Felicity's property. Felicity has met Sasha just the day before, after she witnessed the car crash that killed Sasha's cousin. Two violent deaths in several days are a little much in this "forgotten corner of rural America".

Felicity is under additional pressure. Someone is offering way too much money to buy her farm or Jeremy's. Although her father has had heart attacks and strokes, she mentions it to him, and she's shocked when he tries to escape from the retirement home after talking with her. Then, soon after she finds Sasha's body, he makes another dash for freedom, heading towards their property and that of a long-dead friend. The only thing he continues to tell her is the property will take care of her, and she's not to sell it.

Oleksiw has introduced a intriguing setting, story and character. Readers will be as stunned as Felicity is when she learns what is really important about Tree Line Farm. But, someone is willing to kill to keep that secret.

Susan Oleksiw's website is www.susanoleksiw.com

Below the Tree Line by Susan Oleksiw. Midnight Ink, 2018. ISBN 9780738758916 (paperback), 300p.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Author Interview - Tracy Weber

I usually don't schedule author interviews for Sundays. But, with half the country snowed in today, what else do you have to do except read? I'd like to welcome Tracy Weber today. She's the author of the Downward Dog mysteries. Murder Likes It Hot is the sixth in the series. Thank you, Tracy.

Tracy, would you start by introducing yourself to readers?

Hi everyone!  I’m a Seattle resident who teaches yoga and trains other yoga teachers.  I’m also the owner of a cute and mischievous German shepherd named Ana.  Ana wasn’t the inspiration for my series, but she keeps me entertained nonetheless.  I am currently also studying to become an applied animal behaviorist through a program at the University of Washington.  I’ve written six books in the Downward Dog Mystery series.  If you want to learn more about my series and me, check out my author website at http://tracyweberauthor.com/.

Would you introduce us to Kate Davidson?

Kate Davidson is a 35-year old Seattle yoga teacher with a crazy German shepherd named Bella. She’s grown a lot through my series. She struggles with pogonophobia—the irrational fear of beards—and sometimes-embarrassing anger management issues.  In spite of her weaknesses, she has an amazing heart and a strong desire to help others.

Tell us about your latest mystery, Murder Likes It Hot.

My publisher’s summary of Murder Likes It Hot is below:

Newly married yoga instructor Kate Davidson feels stuck in low-energy limbo, despite her high-energy life. She's trying to conceive a child, keep her studio afloat now that the ultra-cheap Some Like It Hot Yoga studio has opened across the street, and start a yoga program at a local resource center for homeless youth.
When a center employee is found dead, Kate sets aside her fertility and financial woes to delve into the world of teenage homelessness. While digging for clues with her German shepherd Bella, Kate discovers that family can be formed by bonds stronger than shared DNA, and she must defend it at all costs.
This installment of the Downward Dog Mystery Series is a bit darker than my earlier works. It’s pretty tough to write realistically about teenage homelessness, heroin addiction, and infertility without exploring darker emotions. I’ve never shied away from serious themes in my work, but this book was a particular challenge.

One reviewer called it one of the darkest and most realistic cozies she’d ever read. (It was a compliment.  She loved the book!) I believe that hope illuminates the darkest of times and emotions. That theme—hope and transformation through challenge—pervades this and all of my work.
And there are definitely lighter moments to balance out the dark.  The hijinks of two new animal characters—rats Ed and Lonnie—provide plenty of laughs.

Why yoga? What about yoga allows Kate to be an amateur sleuth?

A good yoga teacher (and Kate is a great one!)  has finely tuned observation skills and she becomes sensitive to changes in energy. Additionally, yoga philosophy is more about living clearly and ethically than stretching your hamstrings.  A yoga teacher/sleuth would have a keen sense of justice and a desire to help those in need.

Why did you choose to write cozy mysteries?

I’ve loved cozy mysteries since long before I knew there was a genre by that name.  It was a natural for me to want to write one!

What has been the highlight of your writing career?

Getting nominated for the Agatha award for Best First Novel for Murder Strikes a Pose.  I didn’t ultimately win, but the other four nominees and I became fast friends, and I treasured the experience.

Where do you take friends when they come to visit you in Seattle?

People love the Seattle waterfront, and no waterfront visit would be complete without a trip to Ivar’s Fish Bar where they encourage you to feed fish and fries to the seagulls!

What authors influenced you, Tracy?

Susan Conant inspired me to become a writer.  Her Dog Lovers Mystery Series made me laugh out loud and realize that I should write down some of my dog Tasha’s crazy antics. Tasha has since passed on, and I’m grateful that she continues to live on through Bella.

What author or book do you think is underappreciated?

I think most mid-list authors are underappreciated. In such a crowded field, it’s hard to stand out.

I’m a librarian, so I always end with the same question. Tell us a story about a library or librarian in your life.

My local Greenwood library has been extremely supportive to me throughout my writing career.  They’ve promoted my books as great summer reads, hosted discussion groups, and made me feel important.  I love them!

Thank you, again, Tracy.

Murder Likes It Hot by Tracy Weber. Midnight Ink, 2019. ISBN 9780738750699 (paperback), 288p.

As Tracy mentioned, her website is http://tracyweberauthor.com/

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Have You Heard? - Donna Andrews' The Penguin Who Knew Too Much

Thanks to Sandie Herron, readers are almost caught up with Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow series in audio format. Today, Sandie reviews The Penguin Who Knew Too Much.

The Penguin Who Knew Too Much
Written by:  Donna Andrews
Narrated by:  Bernadette Dunne
Series:  Meg Langslow, Book 8
Audible Audiobook
Length: 7 hours and 16 minutes
Publisher: Dreamscape Media, LLC (February 22, 2017)

Penguins in Virginia?  Yep, Meg Langslow’s dad offered to foster the penguins from the Caerphilly Zoo while its owner, Patrick Lanahan, regrouped to get his finances in order.  Dr. Langslow had been digging a hole for a pond in the basement of Meg and her fiancé Michael’s newly repaired Victorian home when he found a body.  The police were called.  Suddenly Meg found herself accepting delivery of a group of llamas and camels that had been fostered for the zoo by others who couldn’t find the owner.  She would have preferred to join the rest of the family helping move into the house on this Memorial Day weekend so she could hide breakables before the party began on Monday.  She prayed it wouldn’t interfere with The Plan; Meg and Michael planned to elope from the party and head out on a two week honeymoon. 

Just then Sheila Flugleman, manager of the feed store, arrived to get permission to scoop up all the zoo animal dung for the ZooperPoop she sold at the store.  The yard was beginning to smell, which would surely get worse after the hyenas arrived.  Next the claustrophobic, medical examiner Dr. Smoot had severe distress about going into the basement.  The doorbell rang, and Meg discovered Dr. Montgomery Blake, the wildlife zoologist who everyone knew from National Geographic, Discovery channel, and Animal Planet.  He was in town to examine the zoo only to find its owner and animals missing.

While Meg snooped at the zoo, more new arrivals including a group of protestors calling themselves the “Save Our Beasts” or SOBs, the Clay county zoo owner, the animal welfare officer, the media, and more family joined the ruckus going on.  Two Sprockets, relatives of Edwina Sprocket who had owned the house, rang the bell believing the body found was one of their dead relatives.  Forbidden to dig inside, they began digging trenches in the yard to try and locate the missing relative.

Lemurs, a donkey, and some of Mr. Early’s sheep from the farm next door looked on as cousin Rose Noire tried to help Dr. Smoot, who had spent the night in the backyard, past his phobias.  A class in animal massage was scheduled for the afternoon.  Meg’s mother continued to slowly move items into the house, rearranging as she went.  Things only went downhill from there.

Narrator Bernadette Dunne has the monumental task of calmly bringing us this hectic accounting of a Memorial Day weekend in Virginia with an almost-married couple moving into their first house, helped by family; and she does a marvelous job.

Donna Andrews has brought us another hysterically funny mystery.  It amazes me how well she can write pandemonium, with one event after another adding to the hilarity, not detracting from it.  The juxtaposition of normal against chaos makes it so much funnier.  There is a mystery at the root of the story – who is the body in the basement, how did it get there, who killed it, and why?  The focus on solving that moves the story along at a delicious pace, becoming the focus again by book’s end when all is solved.  The big question that remains – did Meg and Michael make it to their own wedding?

Friday, January 18, 2019

Winners and a Victorian Mystery Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Marie R. of Horseheads, NY won A Gift of Bones. Jane R. from Driftwood, TX will receive Deck the Hounds.The books will go out in the mail today.

I have two mysteries set in the Victorian era, although one starts just at the end of it. In fact, that really is just at the end for Tasha Alexander's Uneasy Lies the Crown. On her deathbed, Queen Victoria slips a note to Colin Hargreaves, a trusted agent of the Crown. It says, "One and no more. Dare to know." While the entire nation grieves, Lady Emily and her husband, Colin, are dealing with that mystery. A body found in the Tower of London has been posed to look like the murder of medieval king Henry VI. Then, another body shows up, posed like another dead king. Emily searches for answers while Colin continues to receive anonymous notes that seem to threaten Victoria's successor.

Jennifer Ashley's Scandal Above Stairs takes cook Kat Holloway out of her kitchen to investigate. When priceless artwork goes missing from some of the homes of Mayfair's wealthiest families, Kat teams up with a friend, now a pawnbroker, to find the thief and a killer.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read either "Win Uneasy Lies the Crown" or "Win Scandal Above Stairs." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Jan. 24 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

What Are You Reading?

What are you reading this week? Naturally, I'm reading mysteries on deadline, but I have a four day weekend coming up, so I'll get them all read. Because I'm reading mysteries, I looked through my nonfiction books to find something else. I'm actually re-reading a book this week, which I seldom do.

Nine years ago, I read Roger Rosenblatt's "family story", Making Toast. It wasn't an easy read then, but I'm looking at it from a different perspective now. Rosenblatt's book is the story of his anger after his thirty-eight year old daughter, Amy, died unexpectedly. He and his wife, Ginny, moved in with their son-in-law to help take care of the three children. It's a story of loss and emotion, and grandparents stepping in to take a different role in their grandchildren's lives. Nine years ago, I read that book just four months after my husband's death. I commented at the time that sometimes you do get through days by doing simple tasks, Making Toast.

I had actually forgotten that I'd read this book at the time. Sometimes, it's good to re-read at a later date. I won't be reviewing it a second time, but it's interesting to look back and see what I wrote then. Different time. Different mood.

So, tell us what you're reading this week. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Michael W. Twitty & The Cooking Gene

I really don't have a book to talk about today. Instead, I'm going to share the information about a program I'm going to on Thursday night. The library is hosting Michael W. Twitty, author of a book called The Cooking Gene. So many of us are fascinated by our ancestry and family history. Twitty has combined his ancestry with the history of food.

Because I haven't been to the program yet, but find the topic interesting, I'm going to share the information about the book and its background. This comes from Amazon.

2018 James Beard Foundation Book of the Year | 2018 James Beard Foundation Book Award Winner inWriting | Nominee for the 2018 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Nonfiction | #75 on The Root100 2018
A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.
Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who "owns" it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine. 
From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty tells his family story through the foods that enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia. 
As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep—the power that food has to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.

I can't wait to hear Twitty's story of uncovering his ancestral culinary history.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Bibliophile by Jane Mount

Several months ago I mentioned a book I was browsing through, Bibliophile by Jane Mount. It's
subtitled "An Illustrated Miscellany", and that's exactly what it is. It's a beautifully illustrated collection of miscellaneous lists and piles of books, descriptions of books grouped around one subject, beloved bookstores, libraries, quizzes, and so much more. If it's about books, Mount tries to include it in the book she illustrated.

Interested in writers' pets? Of course, there's John Steinbeck's Charley, a standard poodle. But, there's also Herman, Maurice Sendak's German shepherd named after Herman Melville. Jack Kerouac loved cats, especially Tyke. Mark Twain was a cat lover, and I've seen all kinds of quotes from him about cats.

There's a map of Fictional Planet Universe. I recognized Asteroid B-612 immediately from The Little Prince, but there were several other planets I'd read about, and so many were unfamiliar. It's been too many years since I read Robert Heinlein. I should have remembered Zorg, though, because I loved Calvin and Hobbes.

Are you looking for lists of dystopian novels? Books about journeys and adventures? Biographies and autobiographies? Mount has you covered, and she includes gorgeous illustrations of piles of books in each of her categories. There are "Books Made into Great TV"; Roots, The Handmaid's Tale, Lonesome Dove, Friday Night Lights.

Bibliophile is a weekend book, a browsing collection. When I talked about the book on a Thursday for "What Are You Reading?", I mentioned that I also bought a collection of notecards. Think of the book in the same way. It's a collection of notecards, illustrations, as Mount says, "An Illustrated Miscellany." It's just a comfortable book for anyone who loves books.

Jane Mount's websites are www.janemount.com and https://www.idealbookshelf.com

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount. Chronicle Books, 2018. ISBN 9781452167237 (hardcover), 224p.

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

Monday, January 14, 2019

Sandie's Corner - No Sunscreen for the Dead by Tim Dorsey

Are you surprised to see a book review from Sandie Herron instead of "Have You Heard?" about audio books? Before Sandie turned to audios, she posted reviews here under "Sandie's Corner". Tim Dorsey's No Sunscreen for the Dead is due for release on January 15. Perfect timing for this review. Thank you, Sandie.

No Sunscreen for the Dead
Written by Tim Dorsey
Series:  Serge Storms Book 22
Publisher:  William Morrow (1/15/2019)

All I can say is Vintage Serge!  If you’ve never met him before, he’s a manic maniac who loves Florida and its history.  He crisscrosses the state compiling its oral history with his buddy Coleman, who is perpetually drunk or high or both.  In this outing, Serge visits Sarasota.  While eating shoofly pie at a local Amish restaurant, they befriend two retirees and offer them a ride home after missing their shuttle bus.  They discover that this couple has been scammed into buying a room full of humidifiers and dehumidifiers.  Serge finds the salesman’s card and makes sure he’ll never scam anyone again in a very unique way.

Meanwhile we meet Theodore Pruitt and his son Teddy in 1957.  Teddy loves rockets, models, and shortwave radio.   In 1970 while in high school, after one of his letters is read in Moscow, Teddy is befriended by Tofer, posing as a college student.  When Teddy’s draft number is chosen, Tofer encourages him to join the Navy in order to record all the movements of their subs with nuclear weapons. 

Benmont Pinch works at Life-Armor, a Tampa security firm which protects personal identities.  However, when clients sign “terms of agreement,” they disclose all sorts of personal information which another department in the company then sells to other clients.  Benmont is a genius with statistics and discovers a strange pattern in the last four digits of Social Security numbers.  Sequential numbers usually indicate twins, but Benmont discovers people in witness protection given sequential numbers.  He tells his boss who calls a friend in the FBI and suddenly all the data is classified. 

A rash of double homicides staged as murder-suicides are occurring all over Florida with no apparent pattern among them.  Benmont discovers a common element among them yet the lawyers for the company hush him up.

Serge continues to find members of the Boca Vista Lago Isle Shores Retirement Community who have been scammed and dispenses of those salesmen, which scares off the rest of them.  Serge and Coleman become unofficial members of the park, sharing their field trips, evening storm watching, and participating in aqua aerobics.  Sex, drugs, and rock and roll ensue.

All of these plotlines grow and combine, ultimately converging in one big bang.  Serge and Coleman have definitely added an irrepressibly chaotic chapter to Florida history. It’s all the genius of author Tim Dorsey who presents a (mostly) believable, madcap adventure gone awry yet under the control of Serge and his sidekick.  Dorsey can take some of today’s headlines and events and include them as elements of fiction that seem insane.  Even the craziest ideas become plausible, begging to be episodes on the “Mythbusters” television show.  Serge explains all before setting off in another Florida adventure I can’t wait to read.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Widows by Jess Montgomery

It's taken me a little while to read Jess Montgomery's debut historical novel. It's a compelling story
based on two historical figures, and the author has brought them together in a riveting story of two strong women. And, it appears to be the first Sheriff Lily Ross historical mystery.

Lily Ross was content to be the jail mistress in Bronwyn County, Ohio. Her husband, Daniel, is sheriff in the community that's dependent on mining. But, Bronwyn County has faced its share of mining disasters. Ross Mining Company's Mine #9 is called the Widowmaker after the cave-in that killed forty-two men. In September 1924, more men are lost in another cave-in, including several men who tried to rescue the miners. Lily's father was one of them.

Marvena lost her common-law husband when he tried to rescue miners. John and Marvena were attempting to organize the miners, urging them to unionize. Now, Marvena is the force behind the organizing. But, she's hoping Sheriff Daniel Ross, a childhood friend, will announce he's siding with the miners instead of his half-brother, Luther, who owns the mines.

While Marvena knows about Daniel's wife, Lily knows nothing of Marvena. Then men show up to tell her Daniel was killed, probably by a miner. It's only when Marvena shows up on the day of the funeral, looking for Daniel, that they discover their interest in the same man. But, Lily has marriage on her side, Daniel's children, and her pregnancy. She also has unexpected power after the Bronwyn County Commission asks Lily to be acting sheriff.

What do two young women have in common other than Daniel Ross? Determination, and "the sisterhood of widows". Lily's determined to find Daniel's killer, while she's still sheriff, and Marvena wants to learn what happened to her missing teenage daughter. But, both women care about the community, the miners, their wives, their children, their widows. How can two women take on powerful forces? Remember that "sisterhood of widows".

Montgomery's novel is based on the story of Ohio's first female sheriff, and the accounts of the organizing done by activist Mary Harris Jones, Mother Jones. It's a fascinating book, with more than just a couple strong women. It's a novel that strives to give women a voice in history.

Jess Montgomery's website is https://jessmontgomeryauthor.com

The Widows by Jess Montgomery. Minotaur Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250184528 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Have You Heard? - Donna Andrews' No Nest for the Wicket

I'll admit I'm behind in finishing a couple books. Saying that, it makes sense to share Sandie Herron's review of the audiobook of Donna Andrews' No Nest for the Wicket. Thanks to Sandie, as always, for her reviews.

No Nest for the Wicket                                                                      

Written by: Donna Andrews
Narrated by: Bernadette Dunne
Series:  Meg Langslow, Book 7
Unabridged Audiobook
Length:  7 hours and 1 minute
Publisher:  Dreamscape Media, LLC ( November 29, 2016)

While their home is undergoing extensive repairs, Meg Langslow and her boyfriend Michael are camping out in the barn.  They have plenty of room for other campers at their home for a weekend of Extreme Croquet.  The terrain of their yard along with the uneven field across the road in Mr. Early’s sheep farm along with a nearby cow pasture provide a perfect course, with the legs of sheep and cows providing extra wickets if needed.  Communicating by cell phones from distance positions in the course, Meg delays the game to find a lost ball.  What she finds is a dead female body at the bottom of a small cliff.  The woman was not a participant in the game.  Actually, no one seems to know who this woman was. 

Chatter throughout the game and while waiting for police Chief Burke to arrive had been about a nearby farm owner selling his acreage to real estate developers for an outlet mall to be built across the street from Meg and Michael’s new Victorian home.  Dissenting votes came from residents who said this was historic land, the site of a small local battle during the Civil War. 

Meg is wondering what happened to the professor from the University of Virginia who was to come pick up 23 boxes of the papers of Edwina Sprocket, former owner of their home, that they figured some historian would want to review.  Until the murder victim could be identified, Chief Burke advised to store the boxes in a safer place, so nothing could disturb them.  This meant that Meg and Michael had to go through them that night.  What they found included the original newspaper account describing the local battle.  They bring that to the town’s librarian for authentication, and she bursts into laughter.

The extreme croquet game was beginning to start up again the next day when a woman’s purse was found in the field.  Finally, the murder victim is identified, but even she isn’t whom she appeared to be.  As usual, Meg had discovered as much about the victim as Chief Burke was about uncover himself.

I truly admire Donna Andrews who can write such a hilarious mystery from such ordinary events, events that if taken singly would present laughter.  Bunch them all together, however, and it becomes bedlam.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to giggle to myself or even laugh out loud over the improbable but plausible plot around the unfortunate murder.  Ultimately, the solution to the murder is discovered in plain sight, but only after all the clues were uncovered.

Bernadette Dunne lends her tranquil voice to narrate this frenzy of events.  Told from the first person perspective of Meg Langslow, she mirrors her calm demeanor throughout the turmoil.  Dunne does equally well at portraying the characters crowding Meg’s life, including the various croquet players.