Sunday, June 30, 2019

Favorites of 2019

Halfway through 2019. Hard to believe, isn't it? Jen Forbus once asked me to pick my favorite books from the first half of the year. I'll admit, I'm on an odd schedule, currently reading some September and October releases. And, I've read some August books that might be on the end of the year list. But, this list includes only books that came out before July (I loved Jay Stringer's new book, and Jenn McKinlay's September release, but it's too early to talk about them).

Here's my favorite ten books so far. It doesn't mean they'll end up on my list at the end of the year, but several may. The list is in order as I read them.

I'm kicking off my favorites with Debbie Tung's Book Love. It's a book of cartoons about a book lover, but Tung also delves into her personal feelings. It's a book that captures so many of my feelings.

Below the Tree Line by Susan Oleksiw introduces Felicity O'Brien who is struggling to keep her family farm in Massachusetts. She suspects someone has been on the property. Then her new puppy finds a woman's body. And, it's only the first one to be found on Felicity's farm.

There's actually a nonfiction title on my list, Mary Pipher's Women Rowing North. It's definitely aimed at women sixty and older, with practical advice as to how to live a successful happy life after that age. However, no short blurb can do justice to this meaty, practical book.

I was a little leery about picking up Kate White's Such a Perfect Wife. I'm not interested in all those domestic thrillers. However, White's book brings back Bailey Weggins who is a reporter. When a wife and mother disappears on her morning run, Bailey is hired to cover the story for an online magazine. I've have a weakness for mysteries featuring journalists. And, Kate White doesn't disappoint.

Connie Berry's debut mystery, A Dream of Death is one of the best mysteries I've read this year. Will it make the final list? It's hard to say because the second book in the series, A Legacy of Murder, will be out in October. I suspect one of the books will be on the final list of the year. An American antiques dealer, Kate Hamilton, returns to a Scottish island, only to encounter murder her first night back. She teams up with a vacationing English police officer when the local investigators aren't interested in the murder's connection to history and the past. History, legends, an atmospheric story, and a touch of romance. It doesn't get much better.

Claire Booth's third Hank Worth mystery, A Deadly Turn, is a compelling page turner. It has a heart-breaking opening, and Sheriff Worth will question himself during the entire investigation. He sent a carload of teenagers home, only to have them end up in a deadly crash just a short time later. Worth feels guilty, but something about the accident just doesn't sit right with him.

Matt Goldman's The Shallows is the third Nils Shapiro novel. It's a detective novel set in Minneapolis. Shapiro is hired to investigate a suspicious death by the victim's widow, but the local police and a politician try to hire him as well. Why are so many people interested in the death of a wealthy man? Shapiro is an intelligent PI who doesn't fall for stupid tricks. I love the voice in this book. (Watch for the giveaway this coming Friday.)

Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell books have been making my lists the last couple years, and I was ecstatic and shared the news when she said she signed a contract for more in this series. Raybourn's adventurous Victorian lepidopterist and her fellow natural scientist, Stoker, are intelligent and witty with sparkling conversations and numerous jabs at each other. The country house mystery is intriguing in the fourth in the series, A Dangerous Collaboration.  But, it's the sexual tension that dominates their latest exploit. Veronica accompanies Stoker's brother to Cornwall, where a longtime friend wants to know what happened to his bride on their wedding day when she disappeared three years earlier. It's a captivating, atmospheric story of folk tales, ghosts, and mystery.
I actually cheated by a few days to put Garry Disher's Under the Cold Bright Lights on this list. But, it did come out in Australia several years ago, so I'm considering it fair. Acting Sergeant Alan Auhl retired from the Homicide Squad. Five years later, he's back to work on the Cold Case Unit. There are two cases that still haunt him. Sisters call him every year to check to see if their brother's case has been solved. They're convinced he was murdered. The other involves a doctor. Auhl always thought the man killed his first two wives. Now, the tables are turned and the doctor claims his current wife is trying to kill him. Oh, there will be justice with Alan Auhl on the case.

There's one romance on my list, The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery. The Baxter sisters, fraternal twins, have always been unlucky in love. However, this time, they're determined not to let romance get in the way of their jobs. Bianca is an etiquette coach, hired by Bianca Wray's son to live in, and work with his mother. She's an actress known for her outrageous behavior, but she's engaged to a career diplomat. Sunshine is a nanny for a young boy whose mother has died. The book is witty, with charming characters. The humor and romance are just right.

This is a very personal list. I'm sure others may consider some of these books to be odd choices. However, they're my favorites of the eighty-three books I've read so far this year. If you want to mention several of your favorites for this year, please do so in the comments. If you'd rather think about it, come back on Thursday when we talk about what we're reading, and tell us about some of your favorite books read this year.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher

If you haven't yet discovered Australian author Garry Disher, now's your chance. The winner of the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award has a new standalone crime novel, Under the Cold Bright Lights. Once you read it, you'll understand why he deserves the awards he's won.

Acting Sergeant Alan Auhl is back working for the police department after a five-year absence. He retired from the Homicide Squad at fifty, suffering from burn out. However, he was invited back to work on the Cold Case Unit. A few of the youngsters resent and ridicule him, calling him Retread, but he ignores them. He understands that he's blocking someone's upward mobility. But, the police department can use his skills. There have been 280 unsolved murders in Victoria since the 1950s, and 1000 missing person cases. Many of those were undoubtedly murders as well.

Auhl remembers some of the active cases that are now cold ones,  such as the death of John Elphick. Every October, the Elphick sisters call on the anniversary of their father's death. They're sure Elphick was murdered. And, Auhl pours over the case because he's "obsessive, in a good way. He'd agonized that he missed something." He's the perfect cop for cold cases.

When a family man, a snake handler and a contractor find a skeleton under a slab, that case is referred to the Cold Case Unit. The skeleton is too old for Homicide. But, it's a complex case that will take time as the team digs through old property records and contacts former tenants. Even Auhl's boss refers to that case as "Slab Man".

Auhl will never forget "Blackbeard", the doctor. He's still convinced the man murdered his first two wives to marry his girlfriend. Now, the doctor himself is complaining that his latest wife is trying to kill him, and that she killed his current girlfriend.

One of the strengths of Disher's writing is the way he combines the public life and work of the police with their private lives. Auhl is the owner of a large sprawling house, a dwelling for waifs and misfits. He takes in strays, women and children who left abusive men, international students, even a colleague. His college-age daughter lives there, and his ex-wife comes and goes from the second floor. Disher once said he wants the readers to feel a sense of community, and he builds that through the personal lives of his characters.

And, Auhl's personal life, his obsessive interest in cases and people, will surprise the reader. He's not just a fifty-five-year-old man back on the police force. At the moment, Under the Cold Bright Lights is a standalone. It's a shame. I would love to see Alan Auhl return in a future book.

Note:Nine years ago, Garry Disher did a book tour in the U.S., and I was lucky enough to host him for an afternoon. If you're interested, you can read that blog post. I still find it fascinating.

Garry Disher's website is

Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher. Soho Crime, 2019. ISBN 9781641290579 (hardcover), 312p.

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

Friday, June 28, 2019

Winners and Off to the City Mysteries

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Lynn T. from Oregon, IL won The Island. Such a Perfect Wife will go to Lynn L. of McClellan, CA. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, you have choices. You can head off to Buenos Aires or Milwaukee. Milwaukee Noir is a collection of dark, gritty stories set in Milwaukee. The authors have all experienced life in that city. Check out stories by Reed Farrel Coleman, Larry Watson, Jane Hamilton, Nick Petrie and others.

Or, you can travel to Buenos Aires with Clare O'Donohue's Breaking the Dance. No matter what they think, husband and wife college professors Hollis and Finn Larsson have not left their days as accidental spies behind. They receive a mysterious envelope containing two passports, with their pictures, but the names of Janet and Tim McCabe. Then, they're kidnapped and flown to Buenos Aires, where someone has a special assignment for them.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Milwaukee" or "Win Buenos Aires." Please include your name and mailing address. The contest will end Thursday, July 4 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

What Are You Reading?

It's Thursday! It's time to talk about what we're reading. But, before we do, I wanted to tell you that I raved about all of you on Tuesday. I was teaching a Readers' Advisory class to a small group of new staff members. When I give them a list of tools, I always end with my blog. And, I raved about all of you who write on Thursdays. I told them if they only read the blog on Thursday, they'll find some great suggestions for books, and the suggestions are by readers who are often talented writers as well. Kudos and thanks to all of you!

I'm reading a fun summer romance. It's called the Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren. A twin and
maid of honor at her sister's wedding, doesn't get along with the best man and brother of the groom. They don't get along at all. However, when they're the only two who do not succumb to food poisoning at the reception, they agree to go on the ten-day, all-expenses-paid, honeymoon to Maui together. It's fun, funny, and I really like the two main characters. Let's face it. For me, it's usually all about the characters. Humor is a plus.

What are you reading this week? I've already bragged about you, so it's time to share.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Live and Let Chai by Bree Baker

I'm a little late in reviewing Bree Baker's first book in the Seaside Cafe mystery series, but I do already have the next two, including the September release. And, I enjoyed the characters so much, I will be moving on with the books that follow Live and Let Chai.

Everly Swan followed a cowboy and her heart, and left Charm, North Carolina for the rodeo circuit and culinary school. Now, she's back home with a broken heart.  However, she bought the house of her dreams on the island, and fought a council member to open an iced tea shop and cafe in the space below her seaside home. Mr. Paine is still a "pain", coming in every day to ask what's in each one of her sweet teas. He drives her nuts, but she's still shocked when she discovers his body and one of her signature jars from her tea. It doesn't help her shop when Detective Grady Hays, the new police detective in town, announces that he was killed by her poisoned tea.

Detective Hays couldn't have said anything worse. Everly's business dries up, and even her great-aunts' business suffers. The local island blog is filled with rumors and innuendos, and it's avidly followed by the islanders. With no business, Everly has the time to ask questions and look for the killer whose plans seem to include closing down the cafe. Actually, if Everly persists in ignoring Detective Hays' request to butt out of the investigation, it might be her life that's closed down. Someone is certainly trying, attacking her on the boardwalk, and then moving closer.

Baker's debut mystery is filled with delightful characters. Everly is impulsive, determined, and under a lot of pressure. Her great-aunts, Fran and Clara, are beekeepers and shop owners. They are also marvelous storytellers who spin magic about the three hundred years of Swan women in Charm. Everly's friend, Amelia, is a bookstore owner who tends Little Libraries on the island. There's also that hot new detective who seems to want to ruin Everly's business and her life. It's worth picking up the book just for the cast of characters.

However, there's so much more. Everly is not a knowledgeable amateur sleuth. She knows and admits it, but she just wants to prove her innocence. The seaside town of Charm is welcoming to visitors, even if it's a visit in a book. Danger, mystery, a touch of possible romance. And, of course, there's nothing as wonderful as sweet tea. Bree Baker's Live and Let Chai, like Charm itself, is charming.

Bree Baker's website is

Live and Let Chai by Bree Baker. Sourcebooks Landmark, 2018. ISBN 9781492664758 (paperback), 288p.

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Have You Heard? Juliet Blackwell's Magical Match

Today is release date for Juliet Blackwell's tenth Witchcraft Mystery, Bewitched and Betrothed. I just received a copy and haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I'm looking forward to it. In the meantime, Sandie Herron has a teaser, the review of the audiobook of the ninth in the series, Magical Match.

A Magical Match
Witchcraft Mystery, Book 9
By Juliet Blackwell
Narrated by Xe Sands
Unabridged Audiobook
Tantor Audio, April 3, 2018
Length:  8 hours and 29 minutes

Lily Ivory, vintage clothing store owner and witch, is busy planning her wedding to her beau, Sailor.   Lily’s grandmother and many of her coven, in addition to her mother, boarded a bus two weeks ago and are taking the scenic route to San Francisco to see Lily and Sailor marry.  Yet Lily has another pressing date and event to handle – a mother-daughter brunch to benefit the women’s shelter with the ladies to arrive in matching outfits from the 1950s. 

Suddenly a man named Tristan Dupree shows up at the shop and abruptly states that Lily has stolen something from him and that she has 48 hours to give it back.  Sailor overhears him and threatens him if he bothers Lily again.  Lily has no idea what Tristan is asking about or much recollection of their meeting.  Lily visits the head of the witch community in San Francisco named Aidan and learns that the item is probably a piece of jewelry or a ring.  Lily knows that she must recover the repressed memories of meeting Tristan which occurred when she confronted her father 15 years ago.  She knows that Aidan can help her.  Many hours pass as they work, but they only touch the surface of her memories.

As Lily heads home, she learns that Sailor is in jail for murdering Tristan Dupree!  The evidence is overwhelming with several witness statements and surveillance tapes showing Sailor leaving Tristan’s hotel covered in blood.  Yet when Sailor is apprehended, his clothing is not bloody nor is he bruised from their fight.  The next day Lily sees Sailor in the neighborhood yet she knows he’s in jail.  Could there be a doppelganger who murdered Tristan rather than Sailor himself? 

With so much on her plate planning the mother-daughter brunch, planning her wedding, working on recovering repressed memories, tracking her grandmother’s bus, Lily must find time to help Sailor form a defense.  She enlists the aid of several friends with special talents to try and determine what happened and whodunit.

I always enjoy a new witchy book from Juliet Blackwell, and this ninth entry in the series is no exception.  San Francisco is a favorite city of mine as well as Lily Ivory.  I enjoy the sidekick role that Lily’s familiar Oscar, the gobgoyle, plays.  I’m rooting for her romance with Sailor.  Lily hears the words from her mother that she needed to hear so many years ago.  And finally, Lily begins to truly believe in herself and her powers.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Gone Too Long by Lori Roy

Lori Roy is the Edgar Award winning author of Bent Road and Let Me Die in His Footsteps. Her latest novel, Gone Too Long, is a creepy, disturbing account of a young girl and a community held hostage by the Ku Klux Klan. It's a compelling, issue-oriented story.

Ten-year-old Beth knows she isn't supposed to leave the house when her mother isn't there. But, when someone in a pickup truck throws a bag in the yard, she knows what's in it. Her mother has been warned before, and they've had flyers from the Klan. She never tells her mother about the flyer, and that night, Beth disappears.

Seven years later, Imogene Coulter, the daughter of the local Klan leader, has to suffer through his funeral. The town of Simmonsville, Georgia mourns his death. Imogene is still mourning the death of her son and husband who died in a car accident. She's the only one of three siblings who has not followed in her father's footsteps. She never wanted anything to do with the man. But, her mother asks her to do her a favor after the funeral.

Imogene is reluctant to enter the house that's next to the family house. She never knew what went on there, but her mother wants a cord to the house cut. When she tries to track the source of the cord, she finds a young boy locked in the basement. She rescues him just before the house catches fire, and the Klan members descend on the family home, determined to protect the reputation of their late leader. But, there's Imogene with a young boy, a symbol of secrets that the family and the Klan would prefer to bury.

I'm not usually fond of stories that use alternate voices as narrators. However, Roy is skillful in the use of two women's voices, women who tell of abuse and horror. Imogene's father-in-law's voice is almost as frightening. He's a man who was once a Klansman, a man who warns that people have "gone too long" without paying attention.

"Gone too long" without paying attention. Lori Roy forces readers to pay attention, interspersing the history of the Ku Klux Klan in between sections of the book. As readers will discover, Gone Too Long has layers of meaning in the title and the book. It's a frightening story.

Lori Roy's website is

Gone Too Long by Lori Roy. Dutton, 2019. ISBN 9781524741969 (hardcover), 352p.

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

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicty McLean

Who is responsible when three sisters go missing? It's a question that lingers in the debut novel The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean. Even at the end of the story, it still haunts Tikka Malloy.

1992 is the summer of a loss of innocence in Australia. The Lindy Chamberlain story played as a soundtrack in the background as the courts tried her for murder although she said a dingo took her baby. It's the soundtrack that still haunts Tikka Malloy, twenty years later.

In 1992, Tikka was eleven, and she and her sister, Laura, spent all their spare time with the Van Apfel sisters, Hannah, Cordelia, and Ruth. However, the Van Apfel household was ruled by Mr. Van Apfel, a religious zealot, and anything he did was approved by his wife. Tikka and Laura witnessed family Bible study, and thirteen-year-old Cordie's rebellion. Neighbors witnessed even worse, but no one told.

No one spoke up when Cordie didn't come to school. No one spoke up when she broke her arm, although some said she jumped out of the tree rather than fell. Tikka and Laura didn't speak up when the two older sisters planned to run away, with Laura's assistance. Although the always curious Tikka asked question after question, it wasn't until she was 31 that she asked her father and older sister about that summer. Why did no one speak up when the police sent units and helicopters and dogs to look for the sisters on the night they disappeared?

Twenty years after the events of that summer, Tikka is still so haunted by the missing sisters that she sees Cordie on sidewalks, in parking garages, and she stops her car and chases after women who turn out not to be the missing Van Apfel sister. Tikka still doesn't know if she and Laura should have told what they knew or suspected. After a terrible incident involving Cordie's pet mice, she admits, "Lor and I never told anyone what we witnessed that day, so no one could be blamed for not knowing...I guess I figured if I never said the words out loud, then maybe the terrible things we saw never really happened. So we kept our mouths closed, like we squeezed our eyes shut. Our family of four blind mice."

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is a gripping novel of suspense, a powerful debut. It's a coming-of-age story that rips the blinders off an innocent eleven-year-old girl, while still leaving her with all kinds of questions. In the end, Tikka, her sister, her parents, the police really only know one fact. The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone.

Felicity McLean's website is

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicty McLean. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2019. ISBN 9781616209643 (paperback), 304p.

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

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Keep Going by Austin Kleon

Although Austin Kleon is a writer who draws, according to Wikipedia, he started his career at a library in Cleveland, Ohio. Just a point of interest because I'm always picking up on authors with Ohio connections. His latest book is Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad. It may sound as if it's written for artists and writers, but actually, it contains good advice for any of us.

Kleon's ten tips are philosophical pointers for creative people, but aren't we all creative in living our lives? Take chapter 8 - "When in doubt, tidy up." Kleon is not advocating for Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In fact, he does the opposite. He sees tidying as a way of discovering ideas, writings, pieces that may have been lost. I call it puttering myself. I sometimes use it as a tool for letting my mind drift, and that's exactly what Kleon suggests. In the same chapter, he suggests that "Sleep tidies up the brain", and encourages naps for quick, needed breaks. As Kleon makes his points, he quotes a number of writers, artists and philosophers, everyone from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Toni Morrison.

Some of the chapter titles won't make sense unless you explore the book, headings such as "Every day is Groundhog Day", or "Forget the Noun, Do the Verb." That second is aimed at people who like to proclaim themselves writers or artists or "creatives". However, if they don't write or create art, but just call themselves by the noun, they need to work and practice their craft. I like the chapter heading "Build a Bliss Station." If you don't have a space where you can practice your art, find your time. Is it morning when everyone else is asleep? Or, are you most creative at night?

Then, there's that chapter "Demons Hate Fresh Air." Kleon suggests taking a walk to inspire or set the mood for starting work that day. His chapter "Plant Your Garden" can be taken literally or figuratively, but the artist should be creating for the long haul, not for the moment.

There is so much good advice, along with Kleon's humorous cartoons in this book. The book is a tool for artists, but actually it's a practical tool for life. If you're a fan of books about the philosophy of living, you might want to pick it up. If you're a creative person who writes or paints or draws or composes, Keep Going is a work of encouragement. And, for all of us who feel drained with politics, social media, or the world in general, there are all kinds of tips for shutting off the mental noise. It's a helpful book for all of us.

Austin Kleon's website is

Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon. Workman, 2019. ISBN 9781523506644 (paperback), 224p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library Book

Friday, June 21, 2019

Winners and A Female Sleuths Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. All three copies of Katherine Hall Page's The Body in the Wake are heading south. Winners are Anna M. from Atlanta, GA, Lisa G. of Pensacola Beach, FL, and Kristina A. from Dunedin, FL. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, I have two books featuring female sleuths. I really liked Kate White's latest Bailey Weggins novel, Such a Perfect Wife. And, you don't need to have read any earlier novels to read this one. Bailey Weggins agrees to cover a case for an online magazine, Crime Beat. Shannon Blaine was jogging one morning, her usual routine after dropping her kids at school But, this time, she doesn't return. Did Sharon take off? Did a stranger snatch her? Is her husband responsible? It's Bailey who discovers part of the answer, after an anonymous phone call.

Or, maybe you'd like to head to Iceland with Ragnar Jonasson's The Island. Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir of the Reykjavik Police department investigates a trip to an island. In 1987, a young couple takes a romantic trip that has an unexpected ending with catastrophic consequences. Ten years later when a small group of friends go for a weekend in an old hunting lodge, one of them doesn't make it out alive.

Which book would you like to win? Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Such a Perfect Wife" or "Win The Island." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, June 27 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

What Are You Reading?

It's Thursday! I feel as if I'm still catching my breath after New York City, and then the trip to Ohio for a family wedding. It's always fun to spend time with family.

Of course, that means I didn't get any reading done other than books I'm reading on deadline. Of course, you'll all see those reviews here in a couple months. They're August releases.

Since I can't really talk about those books yet, would you tell me what you're reading? I'll check in now and then through the day today.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Have You Heard? Alice Kimberly's The Ghost and Mrs. McClure

Sandie Herron is reviewing one of my long-time favorite series, Alice Kimberly's Haunted Bookshop Mysteries. The Ghost and Mrs. McClure is the first in the series. Today, Sandie reviews the audiobook.

The Ghost and Mrs. McClure                                                         

Haunted Bookshop Mystery, Book 1
Written by Cleo Coyle (aka Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini)
     writing as Alice Kimberly
Narrated by Caroline Shaffer, Traber Burns
Unaudited Audiobook
Blackstone Publishing
Published October 30, 2018 (copyrighted 2/3/2004)
Listening Length: 7 hours and 4 minutes

I almost did not listen to this book, yet I am so glad that I did.  As I switched on this audio version of the first in the haunted bookshop mysteries, a gruff male voice began talking.  I disliked his tone and his style.  Then a female voice continued, and her voice was pleasant and used present day syntax.  What we had was two distinct voices narrating this delightful story.  The male voice is that of Jack Shepard, the private investigator killed in 1949 in the bookstore that 30-something Penelope “Pen” Thornton McClure now owned with her aunt Sadie.  Buy the Book was renovated when Penelope invested the insurance money from her husband’s suicide into the store, relocating with her son Spencer to the Quindicott, Rhode Island store from Manhattan.  The construction crews had not scared away the ghost in residence.
Pen has the honor of launching bestselling author Timothy Brennan’s newest entry in his Jack Shield mystery series based loosely on Jack Shepard’s life.  Pen is disappointed to find the author rude, pompous, and unpleasant.  While speaking, Brennan reveals that Jack Shepard was actually murdered in that very store.  Then Brennan keels over dead!  During Brennan’s speech, Pen believes she hears a heckler in the crowd, and she hears the same voice later that evening.  She isn’t quite sure who this gruff fellow is, telling her she’s a doll.  He’s speaking in 1940s English filled with very different slang.  Putting together what Jack is telling her now with what she learned from Brennan’s speech, she realizes that she is talking with Jack Shephard, the ghost, speaking silently, in her head, where no one else can hear him.

Strange events begin to unfold as the store sells every copy of Brennan’s book including the 600 more copies ordered at the last minute.  The town is crowded with tourists.  The police have asked Brennan’s daughter and son-in-law, on hand for the signing, to stay in town pending the medical examiner’s findings.  Brennan’s publicist and her assistant stay as well.  With Jack’s help, Pen begins to piece together facts uncovered on a “dark and stormy night.”  The two bounce ideas around together and separately, ultimately solving, and then guiding others, to the murders.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story.  I liked it far beyond my initial impression, since I was confused by this gruff voice much as Pen was.  I found the juxtaposition of noir, small town issues, the hopes of a store owner, and the paranormal very appealing.  I am very much looking forward to the next entry in the haunted bookshop mysteries.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Dusk along the Niobrara by John D. Nesbitt

I had never heard the term "frontier mystery" until I read John D. Nesbitt's Dusk along the Niobrara. It makes sense, though, for all those mysteries that fit the western trope of a stranger rides into town, cleans it up, and leaves again. In fact, when I was researching Nesbitt's Dunbar books, every one of the descriptions of those novels begins, "The stranger Dunbar rides into town...". For those mystery readers who want justice to triumph, these frontier mysteries, as slow-moving as they may be, are satisfying.

The narrator, Brad Montgomery, was a nineteen-year-old ranch hand when he encountered the stranger, Dunbar. Montgomery looks back at that short period of 1896 when he and Dunbar worked for the rancher Lou Foster. Together, they rode the Wyoming country known as the Niobrara, partnered with other ranch crews to build shipping pens, and worked the roundup. While they rode the land, they had plenty of time to talk about the landscape, philosophy and, even Oedipus. But, the young Montgomery also observed that the stranger seemed interested in murders that had occurred in the area, going as far back as fifteen years.

As in all westerns, there's one group of bad guys. In this case, it's Borden Crowley and his ranch hands. Crowley is a powerful landowner who appears to see everyone as beneath him, and his ranch hands adopt the same attitude. While Dunbar seems placid and slow to anger, he knows how to stir up the interest of Crowley's crew. As he asks questions about a dead sheepherder, a horse trader who was lynched, and a murdered settler, he seems to attract attention. It's the wrong kind of interest, though, because two other people end up dead before the final confrontation in front of all the townspeople.

Anyone who saw "Shane" knows the story of the peaceful man who rides into town. In this case, as Brad Montgomery looks back and summarizes the results of Dunbar's actions, he says, "To me it seemed as if our area had been purged of a disease that we had not been much aware of." It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows the trope of the knight, the stranger, who comes to town.

There's quite a bit that could be said about the atmosphere in this novel, Wyoming and the ranch life. The cowpunchers themselves had the time to talk philosophy, as they rode across those empty lands. Sometimes, it's just satisfying to read that story of justice, as in Dusk along the Niobrara.

John D. Nesbitt's website is

Dusk along the Niobrara by John D. Nesbitt. Five Star, 2019. ISBN 9781432858292 (hardcover), 237p.

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

Monday, June 17, 2019

Dead Big Dawg by Victoria Houston

I have no interest in fly fishing, and I can live without most descriptions of nature in mysteries, but Victoria Houston's Loon Lake mysteries always catch my attention. Perhaps it's because Police Chief Lewellyn Ferris and her friend Dr. Paul Osborne are so passionate about fly fishing and their feelings about the river. Passionate, knowledgeable people are fascinating. And, Houston's latest book in the series, Dead Big Dawg, is an intriguing mystery, certainly not a leisurely paced environmental story.

Houston does have a knack for description when it comes to the outdoors, though. Here's the opening.  "Staring into the eyes of the great horned owl, the old woman died happy. They had been meeting like this for months in the dark, in secrecy. Watching one another, sometimes watching the creatures moving through the towering pines surrounding them. . .just. . .watching." When the woman is shot, the owl warns others, but people aren't savvy enough to catch the warning. If they had, other deaths might have been prevented.

Police Chief Ferris has so much on her hands, she doesn't pay attention when a fishing guide, a friend, mentions he's worried about the elderly lawyer who is nowhere to be found. Lew has a visiting granddaughter, drunk young men who endanger others by moving buoys, and, then two deaths. A powerful couple from Chicago has been shot at their home at Loon Lake. Lew's small town police force of three isn't equipped to handle large investigations. Dr. Osborne will serve as acting coroner, as he often does, but Lew will work with other neighboring teams. Then, the body of a young woman is found, supposedly drowned, until an EMT says it doesn't look like a drowning to him.

Tension builds in this latest mystery, alleviated only by community gossip and humor, and attempts to escape into fly fishing on the river. But, murder investigations always take precedence, and Lew and Dr. Osborne are dragged back to crime scenes several times. Even so, it's that astute fishing guide who starts to put a few clues together.

Not interested in fly fishing? Me, neither. But, I do love a good story with interesting characters and a small community. It doesn't matter if Dead Big Dawg is the nineteenth is the Loon Lake series. You might just want to jump in at this point. The water's fine in Look Lake.

Victoria Houston's website is

Dead Big Dawg by Victoria Houston. Gallery Books, 2019. ISBN 9781440598838 (paperback), 208p.

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

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Shallows by Matt Goldman

Every time I discover a new author thanks to a book I'm given to review, I count myself lucky. The Shallows is Matt Goldman's third Nils Shapiro novel, but I haven't read the two earlier ones. As I often do, I'll suggest you start with the first, Gone to Dust. After all, it was nominated for Nero and Shamus Awards.

Nils Shapiro is a private investigator in Minneapolis, working with his best friend Anders Ellegaard. It's Ellegaard's wife who is responsible for Shapiro's latest case. When Todd Rabinowitz' widow finds him dead in the lake, murdered, she wants Shapiro on the case, and calls Ellegaard's wife in the middle of the night. Shapiro agrees to find the killer, but he questions the widow, and then lets the cops believe he didn't take the case. That's one way to become popular. Before he knows it, Rabinowitz' law firm, the local police, and a politician try to hire him to find the killer.

Shapiro is too smart to trust anyone. He's at the law firm when the politician arrives. That also means he's there when they receive a bomb threat. It's just one more threat in the life of a busy PI, but Shapiro is curious as to whether the law firm or the politician was the target.

Murders, bomb scares, kidnapping, cooperation with the FBI. It's just all in a day's work for Nils Shapiro. While he juggles multiple clients, he also has to deal with his personal life, his ongoing relationship with his ex-wife. Even that situation becomes more complicated.

I'm not going to write more about the story itself. However, The Shallows and Nils Shapiro are favorites this year. I like the voice used in this book. Shapiro is an intelligent PI. He doesn't fall for stupid tricks, and he knows a few of his own. I like his friends and the couple people he works with. I like his witty comments and his view of the world. Most of all, as I said, he's an intelligent PI who reminds me of one of my all-time favorites, Robert B. Parker's Spenser.

This is the point where I usually suggest you read the first in the series. I did buy Gone to Dust for myself.

Matt Goldman's website is

The Shallows by Matt Goldman. Forge, 2019. ISBN 9781250191311 (hardcover), 304p.

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

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Arches Enemy by Scott Graham

While the setting and environmental history of Arches National Park is appealing in Scott Graham's fifth National Park Mystery, I found his protagonist less so. Archaeologist Chuck Bender is knowledgeable, though, and he may appeal to other readers. I didn't care for his sarcasm or his rush to accuse others of wrongdoing. Although he often proved right, at times he seemed to be a bully. However, anyone who reads Arches Enemy will understand. It's hard to be a kind person when your mother is a grifter.

Bender brings his wife, paramedic Janelle Ortega, and his two stepdaughters with him to Arches National Park in Utah. He's been hired by the park ranger in secret, to chart a cave that may reveal the unknown history of the Native Americans in the area. But, before he can get far into the project, one of the arches collapses, taking a local woman with it. She wasn't supposed to be on top of the arch, but Bender quickly jumps to the conclusion that the collapse was not her fault. He blames the seismic trucks that pound away, exploring for petroleum and natural gas. And, he's quick to accuse the company's project manager of murder. When he sneaks around to explore the remains of the arch, he realizes that someone might have targeted the arch, and maybe even the victim.

It doesn't take long for Bender to get caught up in investigating, at the expense of the job he's paid to do. When several other deaths occur in the park, he's suspicious, and finds himself eyeing his neighbors in the park's campground. He's determined to protect his family from violence.

However, Chuck has another distraction. His mother, who raised him halfheartedly between men and con jobs, is there in Moab. He's reluctant to introduce his new family to her, and her proclamations and comments as a "seer" are over-the-top. Janelle dislikes and distrusts her, and she's the one who eventually points out that Sheila, Bender's mother, is the thread that links all the deaths and the community. Everyone seems to know Sheila.

As I said, readers who want to read about the national park and the environmental dangers will appreciate the book. Those of us who read for character may be less satisfied with the type of humans and their behavior in Arches Enemy.

Scott Graham's website is

Arches Enemy by Scott Graham. Torrey House Press, 2019. ISBN 9781948814058 (paperback), 288p.

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

Friday, June 14, 2019

A Faith Fairchild Giveaway

To make up for last week's lack of a contest, I have three copies of Katherine Hall Page's latest Faith Fairchild mystery to give away. The Body in the Wake finds the caterer and her husband, Tom, on Sanpere Island. Faith has a summer to herself with Tom on the other side of the island working on a project, their son, Ben, studying abroad, and Amy working at an island conference center. Faith hopes to have time for her own projects, but she's caught up with friends. There's a wedding for a friend's daughter, and another friend going through trauma about not getting pregnant. There's also problems that they don't even know about until Faith finds a body. Sanpere isn't the nice quiet island that Faith remembers.

If you'd like to win a copy of The Body in the Wake, email me at Your subject line should read "Win The Body in the Wake." Please include your name and mailing address.  The giveaway will end Thursday, June 20 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

What Are You Reading?

I'm actually not reading today, but driving to Ohio for a family wedding. It's my last trip until August. I'll have to catch up with all of you this evening. However, I just finished Rhys Bowen's August release,Love and Death Among the Cheetahs. It's a Royal Spyness mystery. Georgie and Darcy are on their honeymoon, and he surprises her with a trip to Kenya. The English aristocrats that live there have a lifestyle of drinking, drunks and sleeping around. Then, there's that murder they all want to pass off as an attack by a wild animal.

What are you reading this week? Please share. As I said, I'll catch up in the evening.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

New York City Trip 2019

If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know I love New York City and Broadway, and try to go once or twice a year if I can. I also try to go at the end of May so I can see a play or two before the Tony Awards. This year, I went with my friend, Donna, and we met up with my sister, Linda, who flew in from Columbus.

I usually fly from Nashville because there are a few non-stop flights from there. We arrived in New York just after 2 PM. I'm glad we had a conversation with our seat mate because we would have thought we were in the wrong airport. If you've flown into LaGuardia, and Southwest's terminal, before, I can only say Joe Biden was right when he said it was as if you were in a third world country. Bad, really bad. It doesn't look like that anymore. There's even an independent New York based bookstore in that terminal, McNally Jackson.

LaGuardia - Terminal B

Display at McNally Jackson

And, if you would like to read an article about it, here's one that talks about the enormous improvements. I don't usually rave about restrooms, but a difference!

We met my sister, Linda, at baggage claim, and took a car to our hotel. We always stay in the theater district to make it easy to walk to Broadway shows. A quick dinner at the West End Bar & Grill, and then off to see Phantom of the Opera. We've all seen it before, but Donna wanted to see it on Broadway. This production had the best "Masquerade" scene of any production I've seen, even the TV broadcasts.

On Wednesday, we decided to head out for Donna's other wish for our NYC trip, a visit to the Strand Bookstore. It was quite a hike from our hotel, but we enjoyed looking at the buildings in the Flatiron District.

And, the Union Square Greenmarket was fun to walk through.

Linda and Donna

None of us had been to the Strand before.

Lots of book-related socks for Donna to pick from.

We spent quite a bit of time there, but still managed to accidentally end up at Grace Church at the right time. On Wednesdays, there is a one-hour organ concert. This Wednesday, it was Bach. A very nice way to relax for an hour in a quiet spot in the city.

I didn't set out to capture Donna & Linda, just the church.

We stopped at Beecher's Handmade Cheese for lunch. Excellent cheese sandwiches. Lots of cheeses to choose from. Interesting that the other home for Beecher's is Pike Place Market.

And, I do have to show you the Harry Potter wall we passed.

On Wednesday afternoon, I found a cute little restaurant down 8th Avenue from our hotel. It's called Brasserie Athenee. We went for dinner on Wednesday, but felt rushed because we had tickets for 7 PM for a show. The restaurant is not Greek, but French. The food, ambiance, and the service were so good we made reservations for a leisurely dinner for Friday night.

Then, we went to see "Come From Away", the musical about the planes that landed in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11. This was the third time I saw it, but I'd said I'd take anyone who went with me to New York and hadn't seen it yet. It still makes me laugh and cry, and feel good. Linda and Donna felt the same way. Only four members of the cast have changed since I originally saw the show several years ago.

Thursday, Linda picked our outing for the day. We walked through a little of Central Park and on Fifth Avenue on our way.

Just one set of doors at Temple Emanu-El

We were heading to the Frick Collection. Linda wanted to see it because it's in the house where Henry Clay Frick and his family lived on Fifth Avenue. It's one of the few remaining Gilded Age mansions. What a collection! Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya, Whistler, Gainsborough. So much more. We took the short 10 minute tour with a guide, who gave us information about the house, but we spent quite a bit of time listening to the self-guided tour information about different rooms in the house. In a couple years, they hope to have the upstairs open, so it would be worth going back.

While Donna went to dinner with her niece on Thursday evening, Linda and I made it an Irish night in New York. I have a favorite restaurant around the corner from the hotel. It's Hurley's Saloon. I love the fish and chips. The fish is sole. Because it was so close, Linda and I had plenty of time on a rainy night in the city to enjoy dinner. We had a nice little booth with a window. Perfect.

And, then we went to see a play we really knew nothing about. It won the Tony Award for Best Play, and all I knew about Jez Butterworth's "The Ferryman" is that it takes place in Ireland, and is three hours long.

Oh, my gosh! It takes place in Northern Ireland in 1981. Here's the short note from the program. "Time/Place: The action takes place in the home of the Carney family, rural county Armagh, Northern Ireland, late Summer 1981. The prologue takes place in Derry, one or two days earlier." It's the time of the hunger strikes. Wow! Just, wow! It's a powerful, moving play, with an unexpected ending. Neither of us expected a happy ending, but, even so, the ending comes as a shock. In fact, it was so moving that we admitted we couldn't just go back and go to bed, so we went back to the hotel and sat in the lounge and looked up the background of the play and the story. An hour's research gave us plenty to talk about, and we were eventually ready for bed.

The cast has changed since "The Ferryman" debuted on Broadway. But, Brian d'Arcy James was magnificent as Quinn Carney, the head of the family. In fact, everyone was terrific in this unforgettable show.

We had decent weather during the days of our trip, but it rained every evening except Friday. However, Friday's weather was glorious during the day, in the low 80s and sunny. Too nice a day to be inside, so we went to Battery Park for several hours.

It's a beautiful place to walk, watch people, have lunch, enjoy being by the water.

The Battery Park East Coast Memorial honors the 4,601 missing American servicemen who lost their lives in the Atlantic Ocean while engaged in combat in World War II

The American Merchant Marines Memorial - At high tide, the man in the water is covered.

And, for Donna and Linda to ride the SeaGlass Carousel.There used to be an aquarium in Battery Park, so the SeaGlass Carousel is reminiscent of that.



Here's me having lunch on that beautiful day in Battery Park.

Our final meal in New York City was a leisurely dinner at Brasserie Athenee. Scallops, mashed potatoes, asparagus and drinks for everyone.

And, our last show was "Kiss Me, Kate" with Kelli O'Hara in the lead and Corbin Bleu as Bill Calhoun, a wonderful dancing part.

I couldn't have asked for a better trip or better traveling companions. I love New York City, Linda, and Donna.