Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Antiques Ravin' by Barbara Allan

While I found one Trash 'n' Treasures mystery amusing, I think the humor in these books would go a long way. I'm not really a fan of broad humor in mysteries. I prefer wit and dry humor. But, Brandy and Vivian Borne both use a lot of wordplay in their writings, humor that is not subtle by any means. The daughter and mother are narrators of what Vivian calls "nonfiction true crime accounts" of their adventures in the thirteen books in the series.Antiques Ravin' is the latest one by Barbara Allan.

Trash 'n' Treasures, the antiques shop owned by the duo, is temporarily closed while the seventy-year-old Vivian serves as sheriff of Serenity County. Because her license has been revoked, her daughter, Brandy, serves as unpaid chauffeur, and honorary deputy. Their first investigation takes them to Antiqua, a small town that specializes in antique shops. They've been called there because the stores have been entered, but, as far as the town council can tell, nothing has been taken. Because it's the biggest weekend for the town, the annual Edgar Allan Poe Festival, Vivian offers to hang around, making an appearance as Poe with a dramatic reading of "The Raven".

It's a good thing Vivian stuck around. Their dog, Sushi, follows her nose in a cemetery, and finds a body in a mausoleum. But, that body is someone Brandy talked to recently in town. When another victim is found, still alive, but walled up, Vivian realizes the crime scenes resemble several of Poe's tales. Someone might just have taken the idea of a Poe festival a little too far.

As narrator, Brandy does a good job providing background to the story, and, at times, mentioning that now is a good time for readers to skip a section if they want. Vivian's narration sometimes has to edited by the editor of their book. While dual narrators are often confusing, in this case, the voices are distinct enough that it works.

As I said, the humor was a little much for me, so I was part way through when I realized that the mystery itself, and the investigation of the case, was well thought out. That really should not come as a surprise. It's no secret that the author, Barbara Allan, is actually Barbara Collins and her husband, award-winning author Max Allan Collins. Their characters certainly are original, and, as I said, the mystery is actually well done.

I won't be picking up the fourteenth in the series, but I know this cozy series has a devoted following.

Barbara Allan's website is www.BarbaraAllan.com

Antiques Ravin' by Barbara Allan. Kensington, 2019. ISBN 9781496711403 (hardcover), 240p.

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

Monday, April 29, 2019

At Home in the Dark edited by Lawrence Block

While Akashic Books calls their story collections "noir", Lawrence Block, editor of At Home in the Dark, says he prefers the term "dark". This anthology has an outstanding lineup of authors including Hilary Davidson, Joe Hill, Joe R. Lansdale, Duane Swierczynski. However, quality varies in the seventeen pieces. With seventeen stories, most readers will hesitate before paying $50 for this collection.

While most of the pieces can make the reader uncomfortable, four stories stood out to me, lingering in memory. My reaction to Joe R. Lansdale's dystopian one was "Wow!" "The Senior Girls Bayonet Drill Team" is told by a high school senior, a girl who has managed to survive all the way through school. It's creepy because it sounds like any team on the way to a "game" in a stadium, but these girls end up scarred for life, or dead as they fight with bayonets against other girls' teams.

Nancy Pickard's "If Only You Would Leave Me" tells of a seemingly perfect couple who can't stand being married any longer. Both partners get to complain before the surprise ending.

"Giant's Despair" by Duane Swierczynski tells of a man who has difficulty using his hands, but finds a way to deal with trouble when his grandchildren's father shows up at the house in the middle of the night.

Then, there's Joe Hill's horror story, "Faun". I can't even give hints about this one without spoiling it. However, there are multiple comments about Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder", if you remember that story.

Those are the four stories that stand out to me. I'm sure other readers would have a different reaction, and appreciate other pieces. However, it's up to you and your local library to decide if this anthology, At Home in the Dark, is worth $50.

At Home in the Dark edited by Lawrence Block. Subterranean Press, 2019. ISBN 9781596069176 (hardcover), 360p.

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

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Have You Heard? - Julie Hyzy's State of the Onion

My sister, Christie, and I both read Julie Hyzy's White House Chef series. So, when Sandie Herron said she recently discovered the series, and was listening to it on audiobook, I was excited to share her reviews with you. Here's Sandie's review of the first in the series, State of the Onion.


State of the Onion                                                      

White House Chef Mystery, Book 1
Written by Julie Hyzy
Narrated by Eileen Stevens
Unabridged Audiobook
Audible Studios (February 11, 2014) originally published 1/1/2008
Listening Time:  8 hours, 54 minutes
Barry Award for Best Paperback Original (2009), Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original (2009)

The action starts immediately in this series debut featuring Olivia Paras, assistant chef in the White House kitchen.  She is just arriving for work when a man runs across the White House lawn and right in front of her.  Secret Service agents are too far away to catch him, so she whacks him with a frying pan intended to be a gift.  He tells her he wants to warn the President about some danger. 

Olivia’s dream job would be to become the Executive Chef, a position that will open up soon as the current man retires.  Olivia, or Ollie for short, is the top candidate from the current staff.  She is vying for the job against a former White House kitchen employee who now has her own TV show.  Her audition is to be a taped episode of her TV show that is intended to be her last hurrah once she is appointed Executive Chef. 

An international assassin known as the Chameleon appears to be in Washington, DC at the same time delegates from two large middle Eastern countries have come to negotiate a trade agreement with the help of the President.  Ollie joins with her crew of chefs in the small kitchen to prepare not only the first family’s meals but also meals for invited guests.  Ollie even travels to Camp David to feed royalty

Ollie is worried about the man she whacked with the frying pan, so she calls the local jail to check on him.  No information is given to her, but the man calls her cell phone.  He wants to arrange a meeting so he can pass on his warning.  Reluctantly she agrees.  Before he can say anything, he is shot by a mysterious man that Ollie can identify.  They believe this is the Chameleon.  And he considers Ollie a loose end.

Learning more about the inner workings of the White House was fascinating. Seeing how the chefs prepare meals every day and for many special events concurrently was quite interesting in author Julie Hyzy’s hands.  Every day is different, and the staff is always aware that they are preparing meals for the most important house in the country. Ollie has to balance this against fleeing from the assassin’s efforts to eliminate her.  The action throughout held an urgency that kept me listening to Eileen Steven’s narration without stopping.  Her handling of the action and many different character voices was equally compelling.  Plot lines crossed easily without being contrived.  A very enjoyable listen that I definitely recommend.  On to book two!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Dead End by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Detective Inspector Bill Slider and Detective Sergeant Jim Atherton have two different views of their latest investigation in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' fourth Bill Slider mystery, Dead End. It's another fascinating police procedural with characters who come to life on the page.

There's a shooting at St. Augustine's church, and Slider worries because he knows the violinist he loves, Joanna, is performing with the Royal London Philharmonic in that church. But, it's the conductor who is dead, Sir Stefan Radek, a world-famous man, and, according to Joanna, a hateful man. But, Slider's job is to look out for the victim, and find answers, even if people disliked him.

Sir Stefan was also a multimillionaire, and his daughter and son-in-law were quite wealthy. "Atherton thought it was a nice change to investigate amongst people whose houses didn't smell of urine." However, Slider looks at it differently. "I've found it depressing to see how badly all these people have behaved, people who ought to know better. Casual sin and casual lawbreaking - drugs, embezzlement, greed, adultery, murder - looting their way through life and dropping the litter behind them like tourists."

As always, Harrod-Eagles surprises readers with the killer. It's a logical conclusion, but, still unexpected. It's that unexpectedness that draws me back to this series. There's Slider's unusual way of looking at people, victims and suspects. There's an unusual humor in the books. The police have that black humor that's common with people who see the worst of the world. But, they also exhibit an unusual breadth of knowledge involving music, paintings, poetry. And, Slider and Atherton both have a sadness to them, a feeling of loneliness that comes across on the page.

Harrod-Eagles' Bill Slider mysteries are excellent mysteries. Yes, it's fun to watch the mystery unravel and follow along with the police procedural. But, it's the characters, Bill and Atherton and Joanna who have a wisdom and a knowledge that make them human, that bring the books to life.

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' website is www.cynthiaharrodeagles.com

Dead End by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Little Brown, 1994. 229p.

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

Friday, April 26, 2019

Winners and the Female of the Species

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Donna S. from Milford, CT won Redemption Point. Marina M. from Portland, OR will receive Black and Blue. The books are going out in the mail today.

Before I talk about this week's giveaway books, I have a change to the deadline and date of the the contest. Because of my schedule next week, the contest will end at 5 PM on Wednesday, May 1 at 5 PM CT instead of Thursday. The books will go out on Thursday. So, have your entries in by Wednesday, May 1 at 5 PM.

Let's start with Lissa Marie Redmond's The Murder Book. Cold case police detective Lauren Riley wakes up in the hospital certain of two things. She was stabbed and left for dead in her office. The person who did it was a cop. Because she's not yet allowed back at work, she and her partner go rogue to find out what fellow officer was willing to kill to keep a secret.

Or, you could win a copy of Kirsten Weiss' Deja Moo. There's a Christmas Cow, a thirty-foot straw cow that sits in San Benedetto's town square every December. Despite precautions, that cow goes up in flames every year. This year, though, it's not just a flaming cow. One of the guards has been found with an arrow in his chest, and Maddie Kosloski is determined to stop the hysteria, and bring tourists back to her paranormal museum.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read either "Win The Murder Book" or "Win Deja Moo." Please include your name and mailing address. As I said, the deadline to enter is Wednesday, May 1 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

2019 Edgar Award Winners

Mystery Writers of America livestreamed the Edgar Awards Ceremony on Thursday night. Here are all the 2019 winners. Congratulations to all of the winners.
Sue Grafton Memorial Award – Shell Game by Sara Paretsky
The Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award –The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Robert L. Fish Memorial Award (short story) – “How Does He Die This Time” by Nancy Novick
Ellery Queen Award – Linda Landrigan, Editor of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
The Raven Award – Marilyn Stasio of The New York Times
Best Television Episode – Matthew Seiner & Donald Joh for “The One that Holds Everything”, The Romanoffs
Best Juvenile –Otherwood by Pete Hautman
Best Young Adult –Sadie by Courtney Summers
Best Critical Biographical –Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s by Leslie S. Klinger
Best Fact Crime –Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberationby Robert W. Fieseler
Grand Master – Martin Cruz Smith
Best Short Story – “English 398: Fiction Workshop” by Art Taylor (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
Best Paperback Original – If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin
Best First Novel – Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin
Best Mystery Novel – Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

What Are You Reading?

It's time! Line up those books from the last week, or pick up the one book you read or finished, and tell us what you've been reading. I'm reading the sixth Bill Slider mystery by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Killing Time. I just finished the fifth one (they're part of The Second Bill Slider Omnibus), Blood Lines. My, that one ended on a shocking note. I love these British police procedurals.

So, what are you reading this week now that Easter is over?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Cat Chase the Moon by Shirley Rousseau Murphy - Sandie's Corner

Sandie Herron is usually my go-to reviewer for audio books. This time, Shirley Rousseau Murphy's Cat Chase the Moon has just been released, so you might not have heard anything yet about this new book. Thanks, Sandie, for reviewing it.

Cat Chase the Moon
Joe Grey Mystery, Book 21
Written by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Publisher: William Morrow (April 23, 2019)
1st edition hardcover
ISBN-10: 0062838040
ISBN-13: 978-0062838049

The small town of Molena Point, California is having a big problem.  Bank couriers and business people alike are being mugged as they make big cash deposits.  These may be tied to a man the MPPD is informally watching; a scruffy looking man who is attending Saturday morning story hour at the library where children listen to stories as closely as four cats.  Dulcie, the official library cat, insists that her mate Joe Grey attend, and is glad when her daughter Courtney joins along with friend Kit and her mate Pan.  Joe Grey and his gang are all sentient cats who can read and speak, a secret kept from everyone but their housemates. 

Police only know Joe Grey as the unofficial cat of the police station.  Joe frequents Chief Max Harper’s desk often, reading reports and notes so that he can do his own detecting work.  While the police don’t know it, Joe is the phantom snitch, a voice that calls in tips to the police that always reveal clues or information they might otherwise never have.  This time Joe Grey has foiled a man burying a woman in the sandy beach, and he calls in so a rescue can be made.  No one knows who she is.

The police are perplexed when they receive another anonymous tip from someone who sounds very different but whose message is urgent. A businessman has been mugged and gravely injured.  The caller is recently widowed Zebulon Luther whose sons, daughter-in-law and granddaughter have moved to town from his farm and left him alone.  A chance delivery of his son’s bank statement reveals he has an enormous sum of money stashed away, so Zeb follows his son Nevin and watches him murder the restaurant owner headed for the bank.

While the cats are searching the town for clues, the scruffy man kidnaps Courtney!  He has focused on her striking appearance, which has been featured in artwork and tapestries from as long ago as medieval times.  He takes her to his antique shop and apartment above it, revealing his disguise.  He has grand plans to put Courtney on display and travel the world when her feline markings link her to the classic artwork featuring her likeness.  He promises a life of luxury and stardom.  Stars fill Courtney’s dreams, but she knows she won’t be happy even in a three-story cage studded with gems.

Courtney is watching the store owner, for he is dealing with Zeb’s son Nevin too.  How are they connected, and where is all this cash going?  Will Courtney escape?  Will Zeb survive if his son Nevin discovers he is being watched?  Will Joe Grey and friends save the day? Tangled storylines finally bring the answer to how all is interconnected. 

This 21st entry in the Joe Grey series is just as charming and compelling as the entire series.  Having read all the entries up to this one brings a rich and full understanding of all the characters, human and feline.  However, this book can stand alone as the enthralling story it is.  Brief explanations bring the newcomer into the story without boring the long-time reader.  I enjoyed it immensely.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Dark Winter by David Mark

I'm always happy to stumble across a police procedural series in which the officer's family life is included. My all-time favorite example of this is Dorothy Simpson's Luke Thanet series, set in Kent, England. David Mark introduces Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy inThe Dark Winter. Because this book came out in 2012, I'm happy that I can immediately pick up the second in the series. McAvoy is an unusual police detective, and his family is the heart of his life.

The Dark Winter begins with a sixty-three-year-old man on a trawler off Iceland. He's there reliving a terrible memory for a film crew. He was the only survivor of a ship that sank there twenty years earlier. But, Fred won't survive to tell the rest of his story.

In Hull, England, Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy, has the day off with his family. The member of the Serious and Organized Crime Unit is a 6'5" Scot, who chose to remain in Hull after a recent terrible incident in the CID. He needs the time with his pregnant wife and young son. But, when screams come from Holy Trinity Church, he's the first one heading to the scene until he runs right into a hooded man in a balaclava, a man with a machete.

In the course of the investigation, McAvoy will encounter victims, a young girl hacked to death in church, a survivor of one brutal rape and attack who is attacked again. And, he starts to find an unusual connection between cases that appear to have no links.

McAvoy is an uncomfortable fit with Detective Superintendent Trish Pharaoh's team. He's not a good team player, and he fails to inform his boss, although Pharaoh is willing to give him some leeway. She sees McAvoy as a real policeman, who is determined to do more than just put in his time and close a case.

Who is McAvoy? That's part of the meat of this book. "There's a gentleness about his movements, his gestures, that suggest he is afraid of his own size." He's "an educated, well-spoken, physically imposing emblem." There's a sadness about him. He's a computer geek who is careful to be politically correct. He likes the process and orderliness of detection. But, he has flashes of insight that cause him to go off without telling anyone, flashes that often prove to link to the investigation. And, perhaps most important, he accepts that if he's hunting evil, he must be on the side of good. McAvoy is determined to have justice. He doesn't want any answer. He wants the truth.

David Mark's debut mystery, debut police procedural, was everything I ask for with an intriguing police detective and an intriguing case. I can't wait to pick up the second in the series, Original Skin.

David Mark's website is http://www.davidmarkwriter.co.uk

The Dark Winter by David Mark. Blue Rider Press, 2012. ISBN 9780399158643 (hardcover), 292p.

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

Book Chat - Library Books

It's been almost a year since the last book chat. When I uploaded this one, I saw the last was June 2018. Some of you who are new readers may not even have seen one. It's a little dark. I actually never know how the lighting is until I see the video itself. But, Jinx and Josh both showed up for this one. Of course, Jinx stayed for almost all of it. He knows he's the star in the family.

I hope you enjoy this peek into current library books.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Easter Weekend

I'm taking the weekend off. I've met my deadline. I have some library books I want to read, and I may even watch a dvd or two. If everything goes right, I hope to have a surprise for you on Monday. Since I haven't put it all together yet, it might be a surprise to me as well.

In the meantime, I hope you have a relaxing weekend. I'll see you back here bright and early on Monday.

Hugs to all of my reading friends out there.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Winners and a March Mystery Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Bonnie K. from Carmichael, CA won Something Read, Something Dead. Susan B. of Seattle, WA will receive Mrs. Jeffries Delivers the Goods. The books will go out in the mail today.

I have two more March mysteries to give away this week. Australian author Candice Fox has cowritten several books with James Patterson. She's on her own with Redemption Point, the story of a former police detective, Ted Conkaffey, who was wrongly assumed of abducting a woman. He tries to disappear, but nowhere is safe from Claire's father. Meanwhile, the bodies of two young bartenders are found in a roadside hovel. A Detective Inspector's first homicide investigation is complicated by the arrival of a private detective, Amanda Pharrell, who is there to "assist". Ted and Amanda are both searching for redemption, but it might cost them their lives.

Or, you could win David Rosenfelt's Black and Blue. Injured policeman Doug Brock is forced back to work to revisit a case gone cold, but he doesn't remember it. He suffers from amnesia after he was shot in the line of duty as a New Jersey state police officer. But an old case has resurfaced, and he has to retrace his steps to solve it. He doesn't even remember the steps he took earlier. When a man was shot eighteen months earlier, the investigation stalled. Now, another man is murdered in the same fashion, and Doug has to question his earlier actions. What he uncovers could be more dangerous than any case he's faced.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com.  Your subject line should read either "Win Redemption Point" or "Win Black and Blue." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, April 25 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

What Are You Reading?

I don't have a book to talk about since I'm finishing up my books for deadline. So, let's talk about your books. What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Book Chat - Cathy Guisewite and Fifty Things That Aren't My Fault

I mentioned on Thursday that I was reading Cathy Guisewite's collection of essays, Fifty Things That Aren't My Fault. I'm still reading it because my deadline for Library Journal for mystery reviews is this coming Friday. I finished a terrific adventure novel I'm excited to share with you in July. Unfortunately, I can't talk about it yet.

I can share an interview with Cathy Guisewite, though. It isn't one I did. It's an interview from NPR. If you have five minutes, you can hear Guisewite's voice, and catch the connection between her Cathy comic strips and her current collection. They're all about a woman's life. Check it out, if you have time.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre-Dame de Paris, In Tribute and Sorrow

I don't even know what to say. What a loss to Paris, to the world, to all of us who love Paris, and to everyone who never had the chance to get there to see Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Building started on it in 1163. It survived the French Revolution, two world wars. I can't believe it. I was there in September 2017 with three friends, including Kaye Wilkinson Barley, a trip I'll never forget. My father, who was there in the 1950s, wanted me to see Paris. I'm sure Notre-Dame Cathedral was one site he wanted me to see.

All I can do is pay tribute. It's a loss to all of us.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

I know I'm in a minority of crime fiction readers. This was my first novel by Alexander McCall Smith.  And, unless I receive another one to review, The Department of Sensitive Crimes will be my last. The slow pace, and the story in which very little happens, is just not for me. I know others love his books, though, so don't let my comments dissuade you from starting this first in a new series.

Ulf Varg (Wolf Wolf in Swedish) heads up a small unit, the Sensitive Crime Department of the Malmo Criminal Investigative Authority in Sweden. He has two colleagues and a clerical assistant. Varg sees their purpose as "to bring to the surface the things that are below the surface". While they're in the office, they have the time to wax philosophical, discussing Kierkegaard, Freud, Kant, and even Odysseus' dog. When they receive notification about an unusual case, Varg and his colleague, Anna Bergsdotter, handle it. The first case involves a vendor who was stabbed behind the knee.

Although a local police officer, Blomquist, drives Ulf nuts, in case after case, his rambling conversation provides the clue that reveals the culprit. The three cases in this book come up again and again. There's the stabbing, a case of a young woman who invents a boyfriend, who is subsequently reported missing, and a low-key investigation of a spa that is losing business.

As I said, the slow pace and the rambling conversations aren't for me. However, I can appreciate some of the dry humor in the book.  "All suspects should be given the chance to telephone their lawyers or their mothers, and it would not be surprising if they chose to call their mothers. After all, your mother is far more likely to believe in your innocence than your lawyer."

I'll be interested to read some of the other comments or reviews of the first Detective Varg novel, The Department of Sensitive Crimes.

Alexander McCall Smith's website is https://www.alexandermccallsmith.com

The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith. Pantheon Books, 2019. ISBN 9781524748210 (hardcover), 240p.

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

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Reading in Bed by Brian Doyle

In between mysteries, essays are just what I need. Brian Doyle's collection, Reading in Bed, was
entertaining and interesting for someone who is a reader. I bought it for several friends who are writers as well because there is so many ideas in this book with the subtitle "Brief headlong essays about books & writers & reading & readers".

Have you thought about how one book leads to another, or aren't you that type of reader? I'm that type, until I wear down, especially when I'm reading nonfiction. Doyle talks about that in "On the Habit of Reading." He discusses reading in cars, and, with that title, naturally, reading in bed. I loved his essay about reading other people's bookshelves when visiting. It's a great way of avoiding the party when you're an introvert. In "Smelliterature", he discusses those books whose writing is so strong, it will evoke the scent of the setting.

Doyle was an advocate for Portland, Oregon. He praises so many authors from there, and, in several essays expresses his love of writing by Ursula Le Guin, Beverly Cleary, Ken Kesey, Whitney Otto. In fact, he gives an entire paragraph in one short essay to Beverly Cleary, and is convinced Ursula Le Guin was one of the best writers, ever. How many times do you pick up a book in which an author raves about other authors? Mystery readers will appreciate his essay, "Mr Hillerman".

If you thought about an odd topic related to reading or writing, Doyle may have written about it in an essay. He also tackles writing, including that dreaded question, "How Did You Become a Writer?" He credits his father's advice, "If you wish to be a writer, write", along with other solid suggestions, such as "Read everything."

I can open Reading in Bed at random, and say, oh, yes, that was a fun essay, or run my finger down the table of contents and pick an enticing topic. As someone, though, who knows my posts here and my book reviews elsewhere are not of the quality of actual writers who review, I loved "The Dark Joys of the Book Review". Here's a few sentences from the last paragraph of that essay. "So why, if well-made book reviews are so important, do such lowly ink-stained wretches as me attempt them? Well, you get to keep the book you review, which is pretty cool...but most of all for the simplest reason of all - books are fun, and poking into new books is more fun, and discovering and celebrating great books is the most fun. It's the reverse of that feeling we have all had as readers, of slowing down as you approach the end of a great book, because you're reluctant to leave that world you can only enter for the first time once; the grail for reviewers is the dawning realization that the book in your hand is extraordinary, something that matters, something that will hit hearts. Now that's cool."

Reading is Bed by the late Brian Doyle is cool.

Reading in Bed by Brian Doyle. Acta, 2017. ISBN 9780879466534 (paperback), 182p.

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

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Death of a New American by Mariah Fredericks

Mariah Fredericks brings back Jane Prescott, a ladies' maid in the early twentieth century in New York, in Death of a New American. The first in the series, A Death of No Importance, was one of Library Journal's top ten mysteries of 2018. While this historical mystery is slow-moving at times, the story it tells is topical. Jane Prescott is an astute amateur sleuth.

It's 1912. The headlines are about the sinking of the Titanic and the upcoming march for women's suffrage. But, Jane has little time to spend on headlines. The Benchley family is heading to Long Island, to the estate of Charles Tyler. William Tyler, a poorer relative, is marrying Louise Benchley, and Jane's accompanying the nervous bride-to-be. While William is described as "kind", everyone knows of the heroic Charles Tyler, who heads up a task force to put down the Italian mafia, the Black Hand. That's one reason Jane is surprised to see Sofia, an Italian nanny, for the Tyler children. And, Charles Tyler's wife, Alva, doesn't seem at all pleased with the nanny.

The calm, capable Jane befriends Charles Tyler's young daughter, Mabel, so Mabel runs to her in the middle of the night. She's heard her baby brother screaming, and knows Sofia would not have left him. Jane finds Sofia's body, and the window to the nursery opened, but young Frederick is there and unharmed. The family story is that Sofia must have been working with the Black Hand to kidnap Frederick. Jane doesn't believe the story, and Mr. Benchley doesn't seem satisfied either. Despite Charles Tyler's protests, Benchley asks Jane to work with reporter Michael Behan to investigate and find the truth.

The summary will have to suffice so I don't reveal more about the surprising ending. However, this book is so topical as it deals with suspicion and fear of new immigrants, and the roles and expectations of women. Perhaps you'll be as moved as I was as Jane observes the parade of suffragettes, remembering the women's marches of today. Mariah Fredericks does an excellent job combining history with contemporary feelings.

Mariah Fredericks' website is www.mariahfredericksbooks.com

Death of a New American by Mariah Fredericks. Minotaur, 2019. ISBN 9781250152992 (hardcover), 304p.

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

Friday, April 12, 2019

Winners & A March Mysteries Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Linda K. from Woodstock, MD won The Perfect Alibi. Broken Bone China is going to Jane T. from West Linn, OR. The books will go out in the mail today.

I have two more March mystery releases to give away today. Something Read, Something Dead is Eva Gates' latest Lighthouse Library Mystery. Librarian Lucy Richardson and her friends host a wedding shower in the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library. Lucy's cousin, Josie is head baker at her own bakery, and she prepares the food. When Josie's interfering cousin keels over after eating the desserts, Lucy has to step in to prevent her cousin from wearing stripes or orange at her wedding.

Or, you could win Mrs. Jeffries Delivers the Goods, a Victorian mystery by Emily Brightwell. The Lighterman's Ball at the Wrexley Hotel is cut short when a high-powered guest goes into spasms and dies. Inspector Witherspoon shows up to investigate. Fortunately, he's backed up by his housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries, and the rest of the household staff. Mrs. Jeffries has always been the inspector's secret weapon, and they'll find the killer of the dead boorish snob.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I'll need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. With the long titles, I'll make it easier for you. Your subject line should read either "Win Library Mystery" or "Win Victorian Mystery". Please include your name and mailing address. The contest will end Thursday, April 18 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

What Are You Reading?

It's Thursday! Let's talk about what you're reading, or what you've read in the last week, since the last
time we "talked".

How many of you remember the cartoon "Cathy"? I read the cartoon regularly, and identified with Cathy's body image issues. I didn't identify with her problems with her mother or boyfriend. However, I enjoyed seeing a young working woman in the comics.

Cathy Guisewite, creator of "Cathy" has a new book out, Fifty Things That Aren't My Fault: Essays From the Grown-Up Years. As I read mysteries for reviews, essays seem to fill in spaces for me. Some of her pieces hit home for me. I have that large number of black pants for every occasion. Other essays don't fit my life, but I understand. Fans of Lisa Scottoline's essays about her family might want to try this book.

What are you reading this week? Please share!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A Dream of Death by Connie Berry

I love the start of a new mystery series. So much promise! In this case, so much promise, and a great mature character. I'm looking forward to many more books following Connie Berry's A Dream of Death.

Three years ago, Kate Hamilton's husband died on the Isle of Glenroth, Scotland. The Ohio antiques dealer hasn't been back since. But, Kate's sister-in-law, Elenor, begged her to come, saying she needed help. Kate arrives just in time for the end of the season Tartan Ball at the Glenroth House Hotel, owned by Elenor. Once she's there, Elenor is secretive and says she'll talk to her after the ball. She does show her a small antique chest, a casket, but doesn't give Kate any other time. After the ball is too late for that talk, though. Elenor is dead the next day, killed in a style that replicates a two-hundred-year-old unsolved murder. Kate's left with the casket, and a recent historical novel about the island.

When Bo Duff, an island handyman, and best friend of Kate's husband, is arrested for the murder, Kate doesn't accept that he did it. She teams up with a vacationing police officer from Suffolk, Detective Inspector Tom Malloy. Kate's determined to prove Bo, who has a few disabilities, is incapable of killing anyone. Evidence mounts while romantic sparks fly between Kate and Malloy.

The characters and the setting stand out in this excellent debut. Kate and Tom are mature, relatable characters. Back in Ohio, Kate's mother is running the antiques shop in Kate's absence. The relationship between the mother and daughter, the trust and understanding, is beautiful. It's also rare to see that kind of relationship when so many ones in novels are troubled.

The atmospheric setting, along with the intriguing island legends just bring the isle of Glenroth to life. The story combines a contemporary murder case with an old story of murder. The debut will appeal to readers who enjoy history, legends and an atmospheric story with a little romance. Fans of Paige Shelton's Scottish Bookshop mysteries should definitely try this debut, A Dream of Death.

Connie Berry's website is www.connieberry.com

A Dream of Death by Connie Berry. Crooked Lane Books, 2019. ISBN 9781683319870 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Introducing Connie Berry - An Interview

It's always a pleasure to introduce a debut author when I loved her book. Tomorrow, I'm running my review of A Dream of Death. It was an outstanding, atmospheric mystery with characters I love. Today, it's my pleasure to introduce author Connie Berry with an interview. Thank you, Connie, for taking time to answer questions.

Connie, Would you introduce yourself to readers?

If we met on the street, you might think you know me already. People are always saying that—"You look so familiar." Then I have to wrack my brain to figure out if they look familiar, too. Embarrassing.

I was born in Wisconsin and grew up in northern Illinois. But apart from four peripatetic years in the Air Force, my husband and I have lived all our married lives in Ohio. We have two grown sons and a very sweet dog named Millie. Besides reading and writing mysteries, I love foreign travel, adventures with a hint of danger, cute animals, the northwoods of Wisconsin, and all things British. 

Would you introduce us to Kate Hamilton?

Kate is the kind of woman I'd like as a friend. She's in her mid-forties, of Scandinavian descent, a recent widow with two college-age children—an academically inclined son, Eric, who's working on a graduate degree in nuclear physics; and the tempestuous Christine, drawn to men she thinks are too good to be true and usually prove her right.

Kate's father, who taught her about antiques, teasingly called her a divvy, an antique whisperer, able to spot a fake at fifty paces, drawn to the single treasure in a roomful of junk. She has a gift for spotting patterns and anomalies, which comes in handy when she is sleuthing.

Having suffered a series of losses—her beloved Down-syndrome brother when she was five; her father when she was seventeen; and her husband when she was forty-three—Kate fortifies her heart against emotional involvements. That becomes a problem in the Scottish Hebrides when she meets a dashing detective inspector from England. Fortunately, Kate has an intelligent, down-to-earth, and wise mother who keeps her on track (usually).

I know Kate is an antiques dealer. Why did you pick that profession for her?

"Write what you know" is a piece of literary advice I took to heart. Like Kate, I was raised by charmingly eccentric antique collectors who eventually opened a shop, not because they wanted to sell antiques but because they needed a plausible excuse to keep buying them. Although I didn't realize it at the time (we all believe our lives are normal, don't we?), I grew up in a house that looked more like a museum than a residence. One time my parents went out to buy a new mattress and came home instead with a larger-than-life-size marble bust of Marie Antoinette. None of my friends had one of those in their living rooms. Their houses were French Provincial or Traditional or Country. Ours, my mother said, was "eclectic," meaning a jumble spanning three continents and six centuries. I asked her once, "Why don't we have new furniture like everyone else?" "Our things have a history," she answered mysteriously. "So much more interesting, don't you think?" That line made it into my first book. Growing up surrounded by the artifacts of the past has given me a life-long passion for antiques and history, elements in everything I write. 

Tell us about A Dream of Death, without spoilers.      

Autumn has come and gone on the Isle of Glenroth, and the locals gather for the Tartan Ball, the annual end-of-tourist-season gala. Spirits are high. A recently published novel about island history has brought hordes of tourists to the small Hebridean resort community. On the guest list is American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton. Kate returns reluctantly to the island where her husband died, determined to repair her relationship with his sister, proprietor of the island's luxe country house hotel, famous for its connection with Bonnie Prince Charlie. The next morning a body is found, murdered in a reenactment of an infamous crime described in the novel. The Scottish police discount the historical connection, but when a much-loved local handyman is arrested, Kate teams up with a vacationing detective inspector from England to unmask a killer determined to rewrite island history. And the only clue lies within a curiously embellished marquetry casket.

I know your next book is set in England. How did you become familiar with those parts of England and Scotland where you set your books?

Since my father's parents were immigrants from Scotland, I grew up with the taste of shortbread in my mouth and the Scots' accent in my ears. One of the characters in A Dream of Death is partly modeled on my Scottish grandmother who, in her old age, sent me frequent letters, informing me about all the Scots who'd played instrumental roles in American history. She was sure my friends would be impressed.

My first trip to England was during college when I studied at St. Clare's College in Oxford and traveled with a friend throughout the British Isles. Once our sons were old enough, we took them to the UK and have traveled there just about every year since. Suffolk is one of my favorite spots in England—off the beaten path tourist-wise but a lovely place with impossibly quaint villages and a history going back to Anglo-Saxon times and beyond. This past autumn we rented a fourteenth-century weaver's cottage in the village of Lavenham and spent an afternoon with a detective inspector in Bury St. Edmunds. 

Can you give us some hints about your next book?

A Legacy of Murder comes out in October of 2019.

What could be lovelier than Christmas in England? American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton arrives in the Suffolk village of Long Barston, dreaming of log fires, steaming wassail, and Tom Mallory, the detective inspector she met during a recent murder investigation in Scotland. Kate also looks forward to spending time with her daughter, Christine, an intern at Finchley Hall, famous for the unearthing in 1818 of a treasure trove known as The Finchley Hoard. But when the body of another intern is found on the estate, romance takes a back seat. Long Barston is on Tom Mallory’s patch, and the clues to the killer’s identity point backward more than four hundred years to a legacy of murder and a blood-red ruby ring.

Everyone’s journey to publishing is different. Tell us about your journey to the publication of A Dream of Death.

My journey was a long, slow process of learning the craft of writing. With a master's degree in English literature and having read countless mysteries, I thought writing one would be easy. Believe me, it was not. I didn't know what I didn't know.

I began writing A Dream of Death almost ten years ago. When I retired from teaching theology two years ago, I embarked on a final, major revision. Two months later at Sleuthfest, a writer's conference in Florida, I met my wonderful editor, Faith Black Ross, who offered me a contract. With the help of my agent, Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary Services, I signed a two-book contract with Crooked Lane Books.

If you had to recommend 5 books for a person to read so they could get a feel for you and your reading taste, what 5 would you pick?    

1. Agatha Christie (of course) 2. Deborah Crombie 3. Jane Austen 4. Susan Hill 5. Charles Todd

What books did you love as a child?

My mother was a retired schoolteacher, so I was read to from my earliest memory. I vividly remember The House at Pooh Corners, Now We Are Six, and the Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. Later, when I could read myself, I loved Charlotte's Web, The Borrowers, and Nancy Drew. And comic books. My sensible mother decided at least I was reading.

As a librarian, I like to end my interviews with the same question. Would you tell us a story about how a library or librarian influenced you?

I'd love to because when I was growing up, the public library was a magical place where new worlds were opened to me. I spent time wandering through the stacks, reading at random. My love of all things British began when, in eighth or ninth grade, I discovered the writings of P.G. Wodehouse. I'd never read anything so exquisitely witty in my life and was certain I'd discovered an author no one knew about but me. Ha! From there, with my precious library card in hand, I went on to devour the English classics and the Golden Age mysteries by writers like Agatha Christie, Cyril Hare, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and G. K. Chesterton. With my beloved hometown library as a foundation—and in spite of my parents' fear that I'd never earn a living by reading great books—I studied English literature in both college and graduate school. Then, to please my father, I attended Katharine Gibbs Secretarial College in New York City. Trust me, I was never meant to be a secretary, but those lightning-fast typing skills sure come in handy as a writer.

Connie, Thank you so much for taking the time for the interview. Good luck with A Dream of Death!

And, watch for my review of A Dream of Death tomorrow on the blog.

Connie Berry's website is www.connieberry.com