Saturday, August 31, 2019

Iced in Paradise by Naomi Hirahara

Edgar Award winning author, Naomi Hirahara, sets her new series in Hawai'i, the spelling she uses in the first book. It takes a little time to adjust to the language usage; the Pidgin, Hawaiian, and Japanese words and sentence structure in Iced in Paradise. Fortunately, Hirahara provides a glossary because I found myself checking words frequently while I read the mystery.

After five years in Seattle, Leilani Santiago returns home to Waimea on the island of Kaua'i in Hawai'i. Leilani's mother has multiple sclerosis, and the young woman wants to help her grandmother, parents, and sisters with their small business, Santiago Shave Ice. However, Leilani is restless, and doesn't yet feel comfortable back at home.

When Leilani's father returns home, bringing Luke Hightower, his surfing protege, she's a little resentful. Despite having four daughters, Leilani knows her father always wanted a son. Now, he's spearheading a surfing competition as a fundraiser, and Luke is his star. However, Luke breaks the news that he signed a contract with a different clothing company. Leilani's father is angry, but is he angry enough to kill the young man and leave his body in Santiago Shave Ice?

Leilani doesn't believe her father is guilty. When he's arrested, she finds herself juggling the family business, a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend, and a budding friendship with her landlord, with the search for a killer. The mystery shines a light on the native Hawaiian issues with land, and emphasizes the Hawaiian culture.

At times, Leilani comes across as immature and self-centered. But, she's growing into her responsibilities. The story of family loyalities, surfing and the distinct lifestyle may appeal to new adult readers. Mystery readers interested in Hawaiian culture will also enjoy the story if they can adjust to the language usage.

Naomi Hirahara's website is

Iced in Paradise by Naomi Hirahara. Prospect Park Books, 2019. ISBN 9781945551635 (hardcover), 216p.

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

Friday, August 30, 2019

Winners & Lies and Lies GiveawayT

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. The copies of Bark of Night will go to Margie H. from Lansdowne, PA and Susan B. of Seattle, WA. Tiffany C. from Dallas, GA won The Scent of Murder. The books will go out in the mail today.

Before the giveaway, just a heads up. There will be no giveaway next Friday because of my schedule the following week. There will be a review of a terrific book, though. So, don't forget to come back next Friday even if it's not for a contest.

This week, I'm giving away two mysteries about lies. Sara Lovestam's book is The Truth Behind the Lie, and believe me, you won't guess all the lies. When a six year old girl disappears, and calling the police isn't an option, a desperate mother calls for help. She answers an online ad for a private investigator. The ad reads, "Need help, but can't contact the police?" An undocumented Iranian refugee risks deportation and danger to become a private investigator in Stockholm in order to make ends meet. Both the detective and the frantic woman have secrets in this book.

Or maybe you'll win Jo Baker's The Body Lies. The psychological suspense novel features a young writer who accepts a job at a university in a remote area of England, to escape the scene of a violent assault she's desperate to forget. But, one of her students starts turning in chapters that blur the lines between fiction and reality. The professor recognizes herself as the main character in his book - and he has written her a horrific fate. Will she be able to stop life imitating art before it's too late?

Which book of lies do you want to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win The Truth Behind the Lie" or "Win The Body Lies." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only please. The contest will end Thursday, Sept. 5 at 5 PM CT.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

What Are You Reading?

And, today, it's what are you reading. I haven't read one more word than when I posted yesterday. I did go to a concert in St. Louis on Tuesday night, and then on Wednesday I went to the zoo. What a wonderful zoo!

Since I didn't read any more of Billy Jensen's Chase Darkness with Me, I'll share a video instead of discussing it again. This is from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. I write the blogs for them. Billy Jensen recently appeared at The Pen, along with Hank Phillippi Ryan, author of The Murder List, another book I reviewed here. So, I'm reading one of the books, and I reviewed the other.

What are you reading this week? (You don't have to post a video of it.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

What Am I Reading?

Did I surprise you? No, tomorrow is the day for What Are You Reading. However, I'm not in town
this morning. I'm actually in St. Louis, and will be back this afternoon. I might even have time to finish my current book, and start a new one before we all talk on Thursday.

So, this is just a quick filler. I'm reading Billy Jensen's nonfiction book, Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders. And, I will be reviewing it soon. The title actually sums up the book, but it doesn't provide Jensen's background, or how his mother gave him true crime books to read and his father told him about crimes that were covered in the newspaper. And, because I've only read fifty pages, there's so much I don't know yet.

As I said, it's a filler today until I can actually "talk" with you tomorrow. In the meantime, it never hurts to mention a book.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A Better Man by Louise Penny

Because I can never say as much as I'd like about one of Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mysteries, instead, I'm going to quote another mystery author. Betty Webb said to me, "I love to see books taken seriously -- and with reverence." I treat each new Louise Penny book with the respect it deserves. Each book is given a day, a day I can sit and read each perfectly placed word and phrase, wonder at the depth of the story, and remain in awe of an author who creates characters and a world that draws in readers. A Better Man, the fifteenth in the series, is almost up with the best. It is certainly another story about community coming together, and, as Louise Penny once said about a previous book, it's about what murder dislodges in a community. In fact, this one is about what social media and murder dislodges in a community.

Armand Gamache is back at the Sûreté du Québec as head of homicide, sharing that position with Jean-Guy Beuavoir. However, if social media is any indication, there are many who believe he is a criminal who should be in prison, rather than heading up the homicide investigation. And, the new Superintendent appears to agree. When Québec is threatened by a national emergency, a spring flooding of all the rivers, Gamache and his ideas are sidelined. Instead, he agrees to work with an agent who has little investigative experience as they search for a missing woman.

Vivienne Godin has disappeared, and her father, Homer, is begging the police to look for her. Because  Vivienne is pregnant, and in an abusive marriage, Homer insists that her husband must have killed her. Although Ganache always feels for the victim and the family members affected by their death, in this case he empathizes with a grief-stricken, angry father. What if it was Gamache's daughter, Annie, who was pregnant and missing? What are a father's fears? And, what would a father do if he thought his child's killer would go free?

As always, there's only so much a reviewer can summarize without spoiling a Gamache story. However, in this case, there's a great deal I can say about social media and the rush to judgment. Penny's use of social media and the dammed up rivers show the enormous power that can easily flood the channels of communication, and a country. As the book opens, Clara Morrow's art, and Armand Gamache's return to work are both the subject of vicious attacks in the media. The attacks are one-sided, blocked in negativity. In both cases, it takes just one action to explode the negative campaigns, allowing the truth to once again flow. While Penny might have used the rivers only as a tool to bring the people of Three Pines together, I doubt it. She's much too wise as a writer to ignore the symbolism of the crushing power of the rivers and the crushing power of social media, the the ability to destroy lives. In so many ways, A Better Man is about pent up fury and emotions.

Let's face it. Those of us who have read fourteen or fifteen of the Armand Gamache books are prepared for mental exhaustion. Louise Penny always forces us to stretch ourselves, searching for truths in her writing, just as we search for answers and guidance from her fictional character. Time after time, we've been shaken by Gamache's actions, but we've never doubted his character and strength and kindness. In this book, Gamache asks what he would do as a father. Readers want to know what Gamache would do as a guide and a mentor. How does a man cope when a river of hatred, a river of social media, crashes down upon him? What happens to a community, to Three Pines, as an actual river, and a river of social media, attacks? Does a community join together to protect itself and its own? A Better Man. Even the title forces a reader to question. Is Penny talking about Armand Gamache, or each one of us?

Louise Penny's website is

A Better Man by Louise Penny. Minotaur Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250066213 (hardcover), 437p.

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

Monday, August 26, 2019

Interview with Dana Ridenour

If you haven't yet come across Dana Ridenour's books, I'm happy to introduce you. The author herself has a fascinating background. I can't wait to have her answer questions about herself and her latest book, Below the Radar.

Thank you, Dana, for taking the time for an interview.

Dana, would you introduce yourself to the readers?
I’d be happy to. I grew up in Kentucky and dreamt of becoming an FBI agent. That dream came true when I was hired by the FBI in 1995. During my career I was assigned to four different FBI Field Divisions and had the opportunity to work a wide variety of cases to include multi-faceted narcotics investigations, domestic sex trafficking of minors, and violent crime. Eight years into my career, I was selected for the FBI's undercover program. My first long term, deep cover undercover case required me to infiltrate a radical animal rights group. This experience served as the basis for the three books in the Lexie Montgomery series. I had the rare experience of working a long-term undercover investigation with my then boyfriend/now husband who is also a retired FBI agent. We were a couple playing a couple. It was an incredible experience and became the inspiration for my new novel, Below the Radar. I retired from the FBI in 2016 and launched my first novel, Behind the MaskBeyond the Cabin followed in 2017 and the newest novel in the series, Below the Radar, was released August 2019. I live in Beaufort, SC and I’m working on my fourth novel.
Please introduce Lexie Montgomery.
Alexis “Lexie” Montgomery is a young idealistic FBI agent who enters the FBI’s prestigious undercover program. She’s a well-rounded, intelligent, strong character with a huge coffee addiction. She’s not perfect and makes plenty of mistakes along the way. She learns from the mistakes and with each case becomes a better undercover agent. In Behind the Mask, Lexie is sent to Los Angeles and assigned her first undercover case. She continues her undercover career in Beyond the Cabin when she is sent to the Lowcountry of South Carolina. The investigation turns into a harrowing ordeal, leaving Lexie physically and psychologically battered. Lexie returns to her home office of New Orleans to recover. Because you can’t keep a good agent down, Below the Radar picks up a few months after her traumatic experience. Against the advice of her therapist and supervisor, Lexie, who is now 33 years old, volunteers to go to the Netherlands with a male FBI partner to search for a missing Dutch constable. Because of her unique background, she is perfect for the role, but she may not be physically or mentally ready for such a dangerous assignment. I love Lexie because she’s a strong female character, but not afraid to show her vulnerable side.
Without spoilers, tell us about Below the Radar.                               

Below the Radar picks up a few months after Beyond the Cabin ends. FBI Special Agent Lexie Montgomery is recovering both physically and psychologically from her last mission that went horribly wrong. She has been handed the most dangerous undercover assignment of her career: infiltrate a terrorist cell in a foreign country to locate and rescue a missing Dutch undercover operative. 

As a safety measure, the FBI assigns Lexie a male undercover partner who questions her loyalties and may not have her best interest in mind. During the mission, a charismatic American extremist develops romantic feelings for Lexie. Believing they are of the same mind-set, he takes her to a remote terrorist training camp for indoctrination. While the Dutch Police and the FBI futilely search for her, events spiral out of control when the cell leader reveals his ruthless and brutal nature. With all ties to the outside world cut, Lexie realizes she must rely on her undercover training and skills in order to survive.
What was your background that took you to the FBI?
I knew I wanted to be an FBI agent from an early age, so I studied Criminal Justice and Psychology in college. At the time the FBI was hiring mostly lawyers and accountants, so I went to law school and graduated in 1992. Unfortunately, there was a federal job hiring freeze in 1992 which lasted until 1995. I practiced law at a small law firm in Georgetown, SC until I was hired as a special agent in November of 1995.
I know you’ve been asked this a million times. How much of Lexie’s experiences were yours?
The character of Lexie came about because of emotions that I experienced as a new undercover agent. When I started writing, I didn’t want to write a run of the mill FBI novel. That’s been done too many times. I wanted to use my personal experiences as an undercover agent to capture the psychological toll that undercover work has on an agent. When an agent works long term, deep cover investigations, he or she is changed at the end of the case. You lose a little piece of yourself with every long-term case. The dangers that I faced in my career made me the person that I am today. Those experiences make up the character of Lexie Montgomery. So, even though the books are fiction, the characters and cases are based on many of my real-life experiences. At this point it would be impossible to separate Lexie’s emotions from my emotions. 
Where do you take visitors who come to Beaufort, South Carolina?
My first stop is the Pat Conroy Literary Center. The Conroy Center is near and dear to my heart. His books made me want to move to Beaufort. I fell in love with the Lowcountry reading his extraordinary prose. If you’re ever anywhere near Beaufort, I highly recommend a stop at this amazing center. My second stop is the Penn Center on St. Helena Island. The Penn Center is the site of the former Penn School, one of the country's first schools for formerly enslaved individuals and one of the most significant African American historical and cultural institutions in existence today. Finally, I would end the day on our neighborhood pier and allow my visitors to experience a Lowcountry sunset. There is nothing quite like it. It’s impossible to adequately describe the beauty, so I would let my visitors experience it for themselves.
Everyone’s journey to publishing is different. Tell us about writing your first book. Was that the one that was published? How did you become a published author?
After I finished the manuscript for my first novel, Behind the Mask, I started the process of trying to find the right publisher. I was confused as to which path was right for me.  As I struggled to find a balance between traditional and self-publication, I found the perfect solution . . . hybrid publishing, also known as partnership publishing. Hybrid publishing encompasses the middle ground between traditional and self-publishing and was the perfect fit for me. I made the decision to go the hybrid publishing route and signed on with Wise Ink Creative Publishing in November 2014. Wise Ink published my first novel, Behind the Mask, in April 2016 then followed up with Beyond the Cabin and most recently Below the Radar
What books were your favorites as a child?
I wore out my copy of Where The Wild ThingsAre by Maurice Sendak. It was my favorite childhood book. I also loved Old Black Witch by Wende and Harry Devlin. As I got older I enjoyed adventure books like Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain and The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. I loved the Hardy Boys series, by Franklin W. Dixon. Maybe that’s why I became an FBI agent. My parents never prohibited me from reading books, even if they thought they might be too old for me. My mother allowed me to read them as long as I promised to come to her if I had questions about the subject matter. I’m sure I read all the James Bond books way earlier than I should have. My mother about had a stroke when I came home from the library with Helter Skelter. I think I was in middle school. Reading was always encouraged no matter what the subject matter. 
If you had to recommend 5 books for a person to read to get a feel for you and your reading taste, what 5 would you pick?
I’m a diverse reader, so this is a fun question. I would say the five books would be: The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I’m all over the place when it comes to my reading habits. I love books of all genres. 
As a librarian, I always like to ask this of an author. Tell us about a library or librarian in your life.
I grew up in a small town in Kentucky. Each week my mother took me to the library to check out books. My love of reading came from her and I looked forward to our library time together. Mom read many of the books with me so we could discuss them afterwards. I still love libraries and I still love discussing books with my mother. Some of my most successful speaking events have been in libraries. We have to take care of our local libraries because they do so much for the communities.

Thank you, Dana.

Dana Ridenour is a retired FBI agent and author. She spent most of her career as an FBI undercover operative infiltrating criminal organizations including the Animal Liberation Front, an organization of domestic terrorists.  Dana’s first novel, Behind The Mask,is fiction but based on her personal experiences working as an undercover agent.  Behind The Maskwon numerous literary awards and was named one of the best indie books of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews.  

Dana’s second novel, Beyond The Cabin, was released on August 1, 2017. Beyond The Cabin, the second novel in her FBI undercover series, is set in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Beyond The Cabinwas awarded the 2018 Royal Palm Literary Award for Best Thriller or Suspense.

Dana’s third book, Below The Radar, was released on August 13, 2019. 

Dana lives in Beaufort, South Carolina where she is working on her fourth novel.

Please follow Dana on the following sites:

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Ten Years a Nomad by Matthew Kepnes

I was never the kind of traveler that Matthew Kepnes was. He was a backpacker who traveled the world for ten years, drinking and partying. But, Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler's Journey Home is worth reading even if you're not the type to appreciate a partying lifestyle. What Kepnes does capture in his book is the philosophy of why some of us want to take off and leave home.

Kepnes, known as Nomadic Matt, spent ten years traveling the world, although he did return home to Boston now and again. He returned home after eighteen months when he was tired of traveling, and realized he could go home. But, he didn't see himself working a 9-5 job. Instead, he spent 3,000 nights in more than ninety countries. He stayed in hundreds of hostels in a thousand different cities. His only purpose was to travel as a nomad, with no fixed destination. Oh, he planned his trips before he started, but he was willing to let go of those plans if another location or a new friend called to him.

In 2004, Kepnes told his parents he was quitting his job to travel around the world. In his opinion, too many Americans choose safety over risk, and are unwilling to give up a paycheck to discover other lands, and meet other people. Even Kepnes had a hard time, though, letting go of his plans. He had to learn to "grab hold of serendipitous moments".

After four years of travel, Kepnes decided what he wanted to do was be a travel writer. He took the time to learn to blog, set up a website, and handle the business. Eventually, his business caught up with him. A blog with a million readers became work, and he was torn between appreciating the travel he set out to do, and spending time working on his site. But, it took years for him to decide he was ready to quit the road and settle into a home.

Whether a particular traveler's lifestyle is yours is almost irrelevant in a travel memoir. And Kepnes' book doesn't actually dive into the places he traveled. He concentrates on the lifestyle of a young nomad, rather than the locations. But, each traveler brings a philosophy and viewpoint of travel to their writing. Kepnes' book is actually a story of his growth, and how the experiences of meeting new people and traveling on his own forced him to be more independent and more outgoing. Ten Years a Nomad is a story of personal growth even more than it is a travel memoir. It's the changes in Kepnes, not the sites he visited, that makes this book interesting. And, I know just which family member will appreciate this book as a gift.

Matthew Kepnes' website is

Ten Years a Nomad; A Traveler's Journey Home by Matthew Kepnes. St. Martin's Press, 2019. ISBN 9781250190512 (hardcover), 226p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Have You Heard? Julie Hyzy's Affairs of Steak

Friday morning was my monthly review deadline for Library Journal, so I only now had the chance to start a book that doesn't come out in October or November. You'll get to read reviews of those books when the time comes. Tomorrow, I'll have one of my reviews up. In the meantime, I am always grateful that Sandie Herron is willing to review an audiobook. As I've said before, I know many people like to listen to them while cleaning, traveling, exercising, or just while at home. Thanks, Sandie, for reviewing audios for us.


Affairs of Steak                                                             
White House Chef Mystery, Book 5
Written By: Julie Hyzy
Narrated by: Eileen Stevens
Unabridged Audiobook
Audible Studios (2/11/14) originally published in pb on 1/3/12
Length: 8 hrs and 53 mins

White House Executive Chef Olivia “Ollie” Paras has been called upon to help the First Lady’s assistant plan a surprise birthday party off-site for the Secretary of State.  To do so, Ollie is paired with her least favorite White House official, Sensitivity Director Peter Everett Sargeant. Approaching the fourth possible locale, a voice cries out.  The man is Sargeant’s nephew Milton whom Sargeant does not get along with. After a quick visit, Ollie and Sargeant go inside the building, where they find the assistant and the White House Chief of Staff‘s bodies!  After calling local and White House authorities, they realize an assassin was on the loose and might come after them. Sargeant has another quick conversation with Milton upon leaving, when a man runs past them, bumping into them.  Could that have been the killer?

On her way home on the Metro that evening, a man named Brad continually tries to start up a chat with Ollie.  Ollie spots an older man asleep in his seat and wakes him so he can exit at his stop. He is confused and nowhere near his home.  Ollie uses him as her excuse to exit and gets him to safety. Later, after the man is taken home, Ollie discovers that the old man is the Secretary of State’s father-in-law.

Once the Secret Service learns of Ollie’s adventures that evening following the day’s discoveries, they assign an agent to her.  Multiple incidents over the coming days of loitering or break-ins to Ollie’s building and then her apartment follow. Could it be Brad?  Could it be the assassin? Then Ollie’s role in discovering the murders is leaked to the press, threatening her further. Special Agent in Charge Gavin takes a special interest in Ollie’s protection, with their friendship blossoming.

Back at work, plans go forward for the birthday party since it may bring the men of different political parties together in forthcoming agreements.  With no guidance from the First Lady’s assistant any more, Ollie and Sargeant must do their best to work with a social secretary for the large guest list, plan the menus, and facilitate the evening as interim organizers until a new assistant could be found.  They are even assigned a social aide on leave from his military position who is more hindrance than help.

Having never gotten along, as witnessed in earlier entries to this series, it is comical to watch Ollie and Peter Sargeant come to rely on each other.  With so many details going wrong, we do begin to wonder if this party will ever be held. Author Julie Hyzy keeps the plot moving, delving into much more than kitchen duties.  It is fascinating to learn more about the White House as well as the Secret Service. Narrator Eileen Stevens continues to wow me with different characterizations, never letting the pace slow.  This fifth entry in the White House chef mysteries is excellent, entertaining, and full of suspense.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Winners and A Dog Days of August Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. The copies of The Dead Girl in 2A will go to Renee G. from Valleyford, WA and Alma C. of Mountain Home, AR. Daniel M. from Weymouth, MA won The Moroccan Girl. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

Because it's "The Dog Days of August", I'm giving away two mysteries featuring dogs this week. I have a hardcover of David Rosenfelt's latest Andy Carpenter mystery, Bark of Night. Andy's veterinarian has a tiny French bulldog named Truman who was dropped off to be euthanized. Andy's ready to rescue him. Then, the vet says Truman's chip shows his actual owner was murdered.

Kylie Logan launches a new series with The Scent of Murder. Jazz Ramsey is a cadaver dog handler in Cleveland. She's training a new dog, Luther, when Luther signals a find, Jazz sees the body of a young woman, a young woman she recognizes as a former student. She's sucked into the case, obsessed with learning the truth.

Which dog mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Bark of Night" or "Win The Scent of Murder." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, August 29 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

What Are You Reading?

It's Thursday! Let's talk about books. What have you been reading in the last week?   

Friday's my deadline for Library Journal for the October issue, so I've been reading October and November releases. There are some terrific ones coming up, some of the best books I've read this year. I'll be sharing them when the time comes.

In the meantime, I'm reading Susan Isaacs' October release, Takes One to Know One. I've only read fifty pages so far, but it's fun. Corie Geller is a bored suburban wife. Just a few years earlier, she was on the FBI's Joint Terrorism Attack Force. Now, she's a freelancer working with publishers of Arabic books. And, she's bored. She meets for a weekly lunch with six other people who are self-employed. One of those, Pete Delaney, seems off to her. After discussions with her father, an ex-cop, and her best friend, Corie decides to look into Pete's background. Did I mention that Corie is bored?

What are you reading this week? I'd love to know.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Truth Behind the Lie by Sara Lovestam

Sara Lovestam's detective story, The Truth Behind the Lie, has several unusual twists. One of
them will surprise readers in the very last line of the book.

Kouplan is desperate to make ends meet in Stockholm. The undocumented Iranian refugee risks everything by placing an ad in the local paper. "Private detective. If the police can't help, call me!" Pernilla calls immediately, saying her six-year-old daughter, Julia, is missing. She can't go to the police.

Kouplan is used to hiding from authorities. Despite his own fear of the police and deportation or prison, he returns to the scene where Julia disappeared. Kouplan questions a number of people about the missing girl. He fumbles through his first job as a private detective, learning on the job. But, as he studies Pernilla, and looks for the missing child, something in Pernilla's account doesn't ring true.

The suspenseful story slowly unfolds through the eyes of Kouplan, Pernilla, and a young girl held captive. Each character reveals pieces of the truth, bit by bit, until the stunning final sentence turns the reader's beliefs upside down.

The Truth Behind the Lie is an unusual character study of two needy people. They find strength in each other, despite their secrets. Readers who appreciate complex mysteries that unfold carefully will appreciate the twists in this book.

Sara Lovestam's website is

The Truth Behind the Lie by Sara Lovestam. Minotaur Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250300072 (hardcover), 288p.

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Murder at Whitby Abbey by Cassandra Clark

As a reviewer who gets thrust into the middle of a number of mystery series, I'm getting to be an expert in whether or not readers can pick up a book if they haven't read previous ones. Murder at Whitby Abbey is the tenth in Cassandra Clark's Hildegard of Meaux Medieval Mystery series, and there's no reason you can't start with this one. I always wish I could have started with the first book, though.

In 1389, Hildegard is a widow with a fifteen-year-old son. She's also a nun assigned a penance by the Abbot because she was caught with her lover. He sends her to the Whitby Abbey to barter with the Benedictine monks for a relic, a lock of hair from Abbess Hild of Whitby, a relic kept for over 600 years. While Hildegard is a practical woman who can't believe an actual lock of hair exists after all that time, she sets out accompanied by two monks militant, who had been on Crusades to Jerusalem, and a young priest. Gregory and Egbert, the two monks, are friends and allies. Hildegard will need both. She arrives at the Abbey during the celebration of the 12 days of Christmas, only to discover other abbeys have sent people to bid on the relic as well.

When the body of a young monk is discovered in an apple storage building, suspicion erupts within the abbey. Hildegard and her allied monks begin an investigation. At the same time, their young priest becomes interested in a woman who has been driven from her home in town. The naive young man doesn't understand the customs, but he finds himself caught up in the tension between the abbey and the town. The conflicts sometimes turn violent as the abbey is the town's landlord, demanding money when the people don't have it.

It's fascinating to read of the politics and history of the period. However, there's a reason I seldom read historical mysteries. I get caught up in the research, checking sources for the facts. I often find the actual history more intriguing than the mystery itself. I found myself checking dates for the Crusades, reading up on the history of the time period, including York, England. Maybe not quite what Cassandra Clark intended with the latest Hildegard of Meaux mystery, Murder at Whitby Abbey.

Cassandra Clark's website is

Murder at Whitby Abbey by Cassandra Clark. Severn House, 2019. ISBN 9780727889539 (hardcover), 240p.

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

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Murder List by Hank Phillippi Ryan

When I selected Hank Phillippi Ryan's The Murder List as the Pick of the Month for Library Journal, I knew fans of legal thrillers would appreciate the unusual twists in the book. She manipulates the reader as well as the characters. The book is easier to summarize than to review, and, even then, it's difficult to do without spoiling the surprises for the reader.

Ryan's story is about three characters, Rachel North, her husband, Jack Kirkland, and Jack's adversary in the legal system, attorney Martha Gardiner. A second-year Harvard law student, Rachel's ambition is to be Jack's law partner in Kirkland and North, defending those accused of crimes. When defendants turn up on the Murder List, she hopes to defend suspects who cannot afford an attorney.

By accepting a summer internship with Assistant DA Martha Gardiner, Rachel puts herself in the middle between the two enemies. Rachel relates the account of her internship, a story that unfolds in the present. However, the past is also essential to the plot.

Rachel North was once chief of staff to Tom Rafferty, the president of the Massachusetts senate. When an assistant in Rafferty's office was killed, there was a scandalous arrest. Jack Kirkland handled the defense in a battle Rachel witnessed in court between Jack and Gardiner.

The entire book is a battle, a masterfully plotted legal thriller with a twisted ending. It's a riveting, character-driven story. Those who appreciate stories with unreliable narrators will discover that none of the three characters, Rachel, Jack, or Martha, can be trusted to tell the whole truth.

The verdict? Guilty. Hank Phillippi Ryan is guilty of inciting shock. She's a skillful storyteller who manipulates the reader and the characters. The Murder List is a must-read for fans of legal thrillers.

Hank Phillippi Ryan's website is

The Murder List by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Forge, 2019. ISBN 9781250197214 (hardcover), 304p.

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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Champion Dog Prince Tom by Jean Fritz and Tom Clute

Champion Dog Prince Tom by Jean Fritz and Tom Clute is a book from my childhood. When a friend
recently asked me to post books I loved, I remembered this book, and ordered it. I read it over and over as a kid. I read it Friday night, and still appreciated it. For those of you who remember children's authors, yes, it's that Jean Fritz, the author who specialized in biographies and history for children. I actually met her when I was in grad school in Washington, D.C. I wish I had remembered that she wrote one of my favorite children's books.

Tom Clute was a small business owner of jukeboxes who also serviced them in Adrian, Michigan. When he saw an ad for cocker spaniel puppies, he mentioned it to his mother who was planning a surprise birthday party for him. One of his friends picked out a small blonde cocker, the runt and only blonde one in a litter of black pups. From the very beginning, the dog named Prince Tom III just tries harder.

Fritz catches the attention of young readers by incorporating a young boy in the story, Nathan Thompson, son of Prince Tom's veterinarian. He's the one who names Prince Tom, and foresees his future as a champion. Prince Tom started by quickly catching on to tricks. He becomes well-known in the local area for those, and loves the limelight when he appears on a children's TV show in Toledo, Ohio. When he goes for obedience training, though, he almost flunks out of his class. When Clute changes his method of training, Prince Tom catches on, and easily becomes the star of his next class.

Prince Tom III goes on to win multiple championships, and become the first American cocker to win the National Field Trial. He was eventually, Prince Tom III, Companion Dog, Companion Dog Excellent, Utility Dog, National Field Trial Champion.

I still find this book to be a heart-warming true story, the story of a runt, a small dog who just wouldn't quit, and found joy in working. Yes, it's a true story. Here's the article from The New York Times, under the title, "Field Trial Title to Prince Tom III".

Champion Dog Prince Tom was an inspiring book for a child, and, as an adult, I still found it to be heart-warming.

Champion Dog Prince Tom by Jean Fritz and Tom Clute. Coward-McCann, Inc., 1958. 128p.

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

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

I fell head-over-heels in love with Karen Hawkins' novel, The Book Charmer, and her characters. The delightful book is set in Dove Pond, North Carolina, a town struggling to stay alive in 2019. It takes a little magic, a great deal of friendship, passion, and love, mixed with a little trouble and sadness, to keep a town alive.

In 2001, when Sarah May Dove, the youngest of the seven Dove sisters, was seven, a book spoke to her for the first time. She wasn't surprised because everyone in town knew the Dove sisters were special. Sarah May loved the library, where all the books were magic, but the one who spoke to her insisted she had to read it. It was a book written by another seventh daughter in the family, one who wrote about the history of Dove Pond. It was the first time Sarah May paid attention to a history book instead of a book about dragons.

Eighteen years later, Sarah is the town librarian, and she now understands that she can't save Dove Pond by herself. The town has been declining as businesses closed and people moved away. But, Sarah passionately loves her town, and knows the right person will come along, love the town, and help her save it. Grace Wheeler doesn't match Sarah's image of a savior.

Grace Wheeler's mother left her and her younger sister, Hannah, and the two ended up in the foster care system. Everyone wants to keep Hannah, but Grace's anger gets her in trouble at one home after another. Then, when she's ten, the caseworker takes them to Mrs. Giano, who sees Grace's anger immediately. With Mama G's wisdom, Grace learns to tame her anger until 2019 when Hannah dies, leaving behind her own eight-year-old daughter, Daisy. Because Mama G is in the first stages of Alzheimer's, and Daisy is lost, Grace quits her high-powered job, and moves the three of them to a rental house in Dove Pond, North Carolina. She hopes her job as town clerk will provide enough money to take care of them until Grace can move them all back to Charlotte. Sarah hopes Grace will step up as savior of the town, and stay forever.

Karen Hawkins' beautiful novel is a story of strong women of all ages. Grace's story is one of struggle, but she's determined to care for her family. If I told you it was a novel with a veteran who can't sleep, Mama G facing her loss of memory, Grace's struggle with keeping her family together, and Sarah's struggle to make friends with Grace and find answers for the town, The Book Charmer would sound like a depressing story. Yes, I cried, but it's a story of courage, a book with as much wisdom as some of those books who spoke to Sarah. There's humor, and, of course, there's those magical books. And, this is a book just begging for a sequel because Sarah's story is not yet complete.

Anyone who loves stories of magic and books and friendship should pick up The Book Charmer. If you're a fan of Sarah Addison Allen's books, you'll feel as if you came home.

Karen Hawkins' website is

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins. Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster), 2019. ISBN 9781982105549 (paperback), 368p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, August 16, 2019

Winners & Girls in Crime Fiction Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Both books are heading to Illinois. Leeza S. from Highland Park won Tell Me Everything. Someone We Know goes to Dianne C. from Elk Grove Village, IL. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away crime novels with girls in the title. I have a couple copies of Carter Wilson's The Dead Girl in 2A. Jake Buchannan doesn't know why he recognizes the woman sitting next to him on his flight to Denver. They both feel they've met before, but can't find the connection. Jake is left in shock when Clara tells him she's traveling to the Colorado mountains to kill herself, and she disappears into the airport. This is the story of what happens to Jake and Clara after they get off the plane, and the manipulative figure who brought them together.

The other book I have is Charles Cumming's The Moroccan Girl. Kit Carradine, a successful author is approached by MI6 and asked to carry out a simple task on behalf of his country while he attends a literary festival in Morocco. But, everything isn't as it seems. Carradine finds himself on the trail of Lara Bartok, a leading figure in Resurrection, a violent revolutionary movement targeting prominent right-wing political figures around the world. Caught between competing intelligence services who wants Bartok dead, Carradine faces a choice: to abandon Bartok to her fate, or risk everything to try to save her.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read "Win The Dead Girl" or "Win the Moroccan Girl." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, August 22 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

What Are You Reading?

Last week, Sharon mentioned she had started the novel, The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins. I just finished that book.
I loved it, but I'll review it Saturday. Magical and romantic and sad, with a young woman who went through foster care, found a foster mother who loves her, lost her sister to drugs, but has custody of her sister's daughter. And, her foster mother develops Alzheimer's. That's the bare bones of the tragedy of the story, but nothing about the friendship and love and magic. That will all be in the review. Hopefully, Sharon will also mention the book here.

I'm also reading James Sallis' October release, Sarah Jane. I just started it, though, so I won't discuss it.

Instead, I'm waiting to see what you're reading this week. What are you reading? Would you tell us about it?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Have You Heard? Juliet Blackwell's Bewitched and Betrothed

While I have a copy of Juliet Blackwell's latest Witchcraft mystery, Bewitched and Betrothed, I haven't had a chance to read it yet. Fortunately, Sandie Herron had time to listen to the audiobook. She's sharing her comments here today. (Thank you, Sandie.)

Bewitched and Betrothed                                                           
Witchcraft Mystery, Book 10
Written by Juliet Blackwell (Julie Goodson-Lawes)
Narrated by Xe Sands
Unabridged Audiobook
Tantor Audio (7/2/2019)
Listening Length: 8 hours and 54 minutes

Lily Ivory is tending her San Francisco vintage clothing store, Aunt Cora’s Closet, when one of her co-workers brings in a shirt believed to bean original Alcatraz prisoner shirt.  Using her witchy powers, Lily feels the evil in the shirt and warns everyone not to go near it.  An Alcatraz national park ranger picks up the shirt to bring it to Alcatraz for display, but she is kidnapped on Cora Closet’s doorstep along with the shirt.  

While Lily Ivory is planning her wedding to Sailor, she hardly has time to search for the missing woman, but she investigates where the shirt came from, how the owner came to have it and why.  She uncovers symbols that might tie it to a demon she had defeated at the School of Fine Arts years before.  She visits the school to discover the demon is loose.  Everyone in the magical community is becoming aware of a great disturbance in the aura around San Francisco.  

Lily’s grandmother, who raised her, her coven of 13 women, and Lily’s mother have arrived in town all together in a bus in which they’ve taken a circuitous route to California from Texas.  They deliberately took their time so their arrival would coincide not only with the date of Lily’s hand-fasting but also with this huge paranormal event.  After visiting her mentor, Aidan, head of the magical community, Lily realizes that this is a foretold event where a man and woman join forces to rule San Francisco.  Their combined powers would put them above all others, including Aidan.

Alcatraz prison, just a short distance from the city of San Francisco, would make an ideal location for this to happen.  Many believe the island is haunted and is cursed.  Lily investigates these allegations and discovers a very strong vibration in the prison, especially the dungeons underneath the prison.
Meanwhile preparations continue for Lily’s wedding.  Despite their busy lives, especially now with this supernatural event looming, Lily and Sailor manage to spend quality time together.

It comes as no shock that this supernatural showdown is going to occur during a festival planned by a local rich man out on the island.  Have Lily and Sailor and their community prepared sufficiently to fight a powerful duo of witches strengthened by a demon? Do they survive the event?  Do they get married?  

This was another charming and scary entry in the series by the Bay.  Lily has come of age here, discovering the extent of her witchy powers and also those of being a lovely woman coming into her own.  She has gained the support of many supernatural beings yet also has numerous mortal friends.  Lily is ready to share her life with Sailor.  I find myself cheering her on and hoping everything works out for her because she surely deserves it. The juxtaposition of good versus evil is very evident in several ways, but which will win out?

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Twisted at the Root by Ellen Hart

I am not a fan of unreliable narrators in books. Ellen Hart does not feature an unreliable narrator in her latest Jane Lawless mystery, Twisted at the Root. However, I don't know when I've met such a dislikable cast of lying suspects.

Rashad May and Gideon Wise seemed to be happily married. However, when Gideon was murdered in their apartment, Rashad was found guilty and sent to prison for his husband's death. Now, four years later, Rashad's brother claims to have uncovered evidence that his brother was not guilty, that someone else was in the apartment that night. He takes it to Rashad's former lawyer, Ray Lawless, and asks him to examine the evidence and reopen the case.

It isn't as easy as Sherwin May thinks to reopen a homicide case. Ray asks his daughter, Jane, a restaurateur and part-time private investigator, if she'll look into it after she sees the evidence. Jane, who, like her father, believes that "truth existed and mattered", is willing to dig for answers and ask questions of the people who were involved at the time. The trail leads her to Gideon's daughter and son-in-law, and then to the family of fine art consultants who own J.H. Chenoweth Gallery. Marlo Wise is unwilling to cooperate with Jane, but her husband, George Krochak, is willing to talk about that night and that period of time.

When Jane talks with the Chenoweths, she finds a family with secrets. And, to her shock and horror, her brother, Peter, was once deeply involved with all of them. Peter's home from London, where he unexpectedly left his wife and daughter, but he won't talk about family issues. He won't cooperate with Jane's investigation of his friends, either.

It's been a number of years since I read one of the Jane Lawless mysteries. However, Hart still excels at mixing Jane's friendships and personal relationships with the mystery itself. They may have little to do with the mystery, however, as in the best mysteries, those personal relationships develop the character and keep them grounded in reality. While she investigates the cold case, Jane also deals with the return of her former lover who is now struggling with a cancer diagnosis. I have to admit, though, that Cordelia Thorn, theater creative director and Jane's best friend, is hardly capable of keeping anyone grounded. She's always been the comic relief in this series.

Despite the suspects (and, why shouldn't suspects be dislikable?), Twisted at the Root is a complex, intriguing mystery. Ellen Hart, named a Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America, is still at the top of her game with this latest investigation.

Ellen Hart's website is

Twisted at the Root by Ellen Hart. St. Martin's Minotaur, 2019. ISBN 9781250308429 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

In recent months, I've been talking about women and World War II with several other women, including my mother. We've commented about the large number of women's stories about the war years. My personal theory? The men's accounts of war and fighting have been told. It's only now that novelists have the chance to tell the stories of the heart, the stories of women who resisted or struggled to survive, saved others, lost their own lives. The stories of battle have been on the big stage. Women's stories are more intimate. For me, that means novels such as Ann Mah's The Lost Vintage have depth and insight into characters.

Kate Elliott's family roots are in Burgundy, France. She spent her summers there as a child, although she grew up in California. Although she loved Jean-Luc Valery, when he took over his family's vineyard at 21, she fled. She wasn't prepared for marriage, and to give her life to the vineyards as generations had.

Now, she's back in Burgundy for a visit, after ten years away. She's offered to help her cousin and his wife, her college friend, Heather, with the annual grape harvest. She's there, hoping to bone up on wines from the region as she prepares for her third and final Master of Wine exam. But, she's always had a mental block about wines from this region. It may have something to do with family and lost love.

There's a restlessness, an uneasy atmosphere in Nico and Heather's home. They have secrets, but it isn't until Heather asks Kate to help clean out the family cellar that bigger secrets are exposed. Those family secrets go back to World War II, and an unknown great-aunt Helene. Although the family patriarch warns Kate and Heather not to dig into the past, the two persist. Helene's story will haunt them, and change the paths of their lives.

Mah's handling of the story, and the history behind it, is skillfully done. She intersperses Kate's story and the story of the search for answers, with Helene's diary from the war years. And, then she twists the ending so that the reader, as well as Kate, is surprised. Family secrets can be the darkest, and the deepest ones.

As author Therese Anne Fowler said, the story is "rich in detail about French food, culture, history, and of course wine." It's also rich in the details of the lives of two related women, separated by decades, but connected by wine and family. It's a tragic story, as so many stories of women in wartime are, but it rewards the reader with that remarkable twist.

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah. William Morrow, reprint edition, 2019, 400p.

Publisher -

Ann Mah's website is

Katia Grimmer-Laversanne

About Ann Mah

Ann Mah is a food and travel writer based in Paris and Washington DC. She is the author of the food memoir Mastering the Art of French Eating, and a novel, Kitchen Chinese. She regularly contributes to the New York Times’ Travel section and she has written for Condé Nast Traveler,,, Washingtonian magazine, and other media outlets.
Find out more about Ann at her website, and connect with her on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Pinterest.
FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to participate in a TLC Book Tour.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Man Who Wouldn't Die by A.B. Jewell

I just found A.B. Jewell's novel, The Man Who Wouldn't Die, to be confusing. I'm usually a fan of detective novels, but much of this one was just odd.

In Silicon Valley, where everyone is into technology, one dinosaur still exists. William Fitzgerald, aka Fitch, is a world-class detective. That's why Tess Donogue turns to him after the death of her father, Capt. Don Donogue. Capt. Don was an eccentric genius, a technology legend. Tess claims he was designing a Spirit Box that allows people to send messages after they die. She insists her father is only "deadish" because she's getting messages from him saying his death wasn't an accident. Tess throws money at Fitch so he'll investigate.

For Fitch, the investigation means he questions everyone who appears too interested in the Spirit Box. At the same time, he's fighting off a gang called the Tarantulas. When the Tarantulas kidnap Fitch's husband to pressure him to turn over the box, nothing will stand in Fitch's way.

Fitch fits the mold of every hard-bitten, world-weary detective, as long as that detective is gay with a loving six-foot-two husband at home.There's nonstop action and humor in this over-the-top mockery of Silicon Valley and the pretense that innovation and technology are everything. At the same time, the detective novel is confusing.

Jewell is a pseudonym for a Pulitzer Prize-winning technology reporter who throws all his knowledge into this book.

The Man Who Wouldn't Die by A.B. Jewell. Morrow, 2019. ISBN 9780062201201 (paperback), 320p.

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

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Terns of Endearment by Donna Andrews

I admit that my sister is the big Donna Andrews/Meg Langslow fan in the family. However, in Terns of Endearment, there was less outrageous behavior than I expected. Meg was a capable, organized amateur sleuth, and she handled a terrible crisis with aplomb.

When Meg Langslow's grandfather, Dr. J. Montgomery Blake, signs on for the cruise ship lecture circuit, his contract allows him to bring others along. Fifteen members of the family and his team accompany him. Trevor Ponsonby-West, his assistant, tried to convince him not to travel with the small new cruise line, Pastime, but Blake is stubborn. Everything Meg sees convinces her that Trevor was right. And, where is Trevor anyways?

On the first night of the cruise, Meg spends time with members of a writers' group. When a diva shows up at dinner, the writers tell her they're convinced the woman caused the suicide of one of their friends. By the next morning, a crew member finds evidence the diva jumped off the ship. The captain calls it suicide, but before Meg and her father can investigate, or convince the captain the death warrants an investigation, the ship stalls on its way to Bermuda. The captain provides a lame excuse, and it isn't long before crew members are hard to find. There's no electricity, and no flushing toilets. Meg and her mother rally the passengers to take over the ship, but Meg is actually more interested in looking for missing people and bodies.

Terns of Endearment takes place in only a couple days, but it's slow-paced for almost half the book. It picks up speed, and interest, when the passengers take over the operation of the ship. The mystery is filled with interesting characters, a large cast that's skillfully utilized in the twenty-fifth book in the series.  While I thought the book wasn't bad because I don't often read the series, my sister was disappointed in the book with most of the family actually sidelined and the focus on Meg.

Donna Andrews' website is

Terns of Endearment by Donna Andrews. Minotaur Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250192974 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Friday, August 09, 2019

Winners and A Creepy Games Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Glenda S. from San Antonio, TX won The Chain. Chris B. of Saint Charles, MO will receive The Never Game. The books are going out in the mail today.

People are playing creeping games this week. I'm giving away a copy of Someone We Know by Shari Lapena, bestselling author of The Couple Next Door. "Maybe you don't know your neighbors as well as you thought you did." In a quiet, leafy suburb in upstate New York, a teenager has been sneaking into houses, and into the owners' computers as well, learning their secrets, and maybe sharing some of them, too. After two anonymous letters from a parent are received by people in the neighborhood saying "my son broke into your house recently while you were out", whispers and rumors start to circulate. And, then a woman down the street is found murdered. "In this neighborhood, it's not just the husbands and wives who play games. Here, everyone in the family has something to hide."

Or, you could win Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman. A murder at at elite New England college tears apart a group of friends. In his first weeks at Hawthorne College, a tight-knit circle forms, friends that will stick together for four years. But, on the cusp of graduation, one young woman with a troubling past finds her secrets, and those of her friends, revealed. While she tries to stop the truth from coming out, a devastating chain of events ends in murder. Someone in that circle is playing a dangerous game.

Which book 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 Someone We Know" or "Win Tell Me Everything." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, August 15 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.