Thursday, October 31, 2019

Giveaway - Post-World War I Mysteries

This week, I'm giving away two mysteries set in the years immediately after World War I.

Penny for Your Secrets is Anna Lee Huber's Verity Kent mystery. In England in 1919, Verity Kent
and her husband, Stanley, are still trying to recover their marriage. In their society, it's a hectic pace of trying to forget. Verity and Sydney are at a party when Lord Rackham is shot dead, and his wife, Ada, is the primary suspect.  They also agree to look into a supposed suicide. It slowly dawns on them that the two cases may be connected. Has British politics led to murder?

In Charles Todd's A Cruel Deception, the war is over, but the British are still putting together the pieces. Nurse Bess Crawford is helping to close down army hospitals when her superior asks for a favor. She wants Bess to go to Paris to look for her missing son, a soldier who was there for the peace talks. Bess finds Lawrence Minton, but he's using drugs, and disappears again. What memories have caused the young man to try to forget? Bess is leery of trusting anyone while on a search to find him before he attempts to commit suicide.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Penny for Your Secrets" or "Win A Cruel Deception". Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Nov. 7 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only please.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Bouchercon 2019 - Dallas

I'm off to Dallas today for Bouchercon 2019, leaving the cats in good hands. And, the blog? Well, there's a book contest that kicks off tomorrow. And, Friday is December Treasures in My Closet. I'm not doing What Are You Reading this week. Please save titles for next week! I know several of the other regular readers/commentators will be there as well.

Hopefully, I'll have some pictures to share on Saturday and Sunday.

In the meantime, while I'm off to talk mystery, I hope you'll enjoy a week of good books.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Finding Christmas by Karen Schaler

Karen Schaler's Finding Christmas was a little like falling into a Hallmark movie. It will come as no surprise to anyone that Schaler is the writer of a couple Hallmark movies, including "Christmas Camp", and a Netflix one, "A Christmas Prince". But, the book could have used a little editing so it would fit in a two hour span.

Emmie Sanders' parents always told her the true meaning of Christmas is "about spending time with the people you loved most, making memories, and helping others". They lived that until their deaths in a car accident five years earlier. Emmie has taken over the community center they built, and she tries to bring that spirit to the people who come. But, somehow, her boyfriend, Grant Baxter, is just too busy to appreciate her love of Christmas. Emmie knows it's because he's so busy trying to make partner at the law firm. So, she plans something special, a scavenger hunt.

Grant promises Emmie they'll have a special weekend escape to kick off the Christmas season, but it's not Grant who shows up in Christmas Point, the final destination on the scavenger hunt. Sam Riley, a bestselling author who lost his sister to cancer a year earlier, was given Grant's first clue by mistake. He loves Christmas as much as Emmie does, and this escape is just what he needs to forget about his case of writer's block. But, Sam isn't the man Emmie was expecting for the weekend at a charming bed and breakfast in a Christmas town.

Remember when I said "Hallmark"? Anyone who has ever seen even one Hallmark Christmas movie knows where this story is going. There really are no surprises. There is a happy ending. And, there are wonderful characters in Christmas Point, including a dog. A year later, there are happy endings for most of the characters, as expected.

I don't have trouble with happy endings and Christmas books. But, this book needed tighter editing. It has a slow start with too much detail. And, it seemed too commercial when the author had Emmie and her best friend choosing to watch Schaler's own shows on television.

Schaler's book does have a strong Christmas message. The spirit of Christmas and the romances are the reason people watch Hallmark Christmas shows. Finding Christmas will fit right in.

Karen Schaler's website is You can connect with the author at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins

Finding Christmas by Karen Schaler. William Morrow, 2019. ISBN 978006288371 (paperback), 359p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book for the TLC Book Tour.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia

Anyone who has read Edgar Allan Poe knows Kate Racculia's latest book is going to be delightful. The opening of Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts is only three pages, but it captures the mysteries, loneliness and secrets that will unfold in the book.
with the opening. "Roderick Usher" buys the Tillerman house, the house in which an artist, Matilda Tillerman, once lived, and the one in which she shut herself off, burying herself in her house.

Six years after the book's opening, readers meet Tuesday Mooney and the rest of the cast. Tuesday is a gifted researcher. She works at Boston General Hospital where she digs online for fundraising prospects. She's a little standoffish, but so much of Tuesday's nature can be credited to her past. She grew up in Salem. By sixteen, she had a best friend, Abigail Hobbes, and the two dove into the culture of exploring witchcraft, ouija boards, and dressing in black. When Abigail disappeared at sixteen, the police continued to look for her. Because Tuesday started hearing Abby's voice in her head, she knew her best friend was dead. That's when Tuesday was sent for help, after she broke down one day in school because kids claimed she talked to ghosts.

Tuesday's life changes at the Auction for Hope, a charity event for the hospital. Vincent Pryce, an eccentric billionaire, collapses at the event, after bidding fifty thousand dollars on an item. It's only a prelude to the crazy game invented by Pryce who invites the entire city of Boston to participate in a treasure hunt inspired by his idol, Edgar Allan Poe. There are rules to the game, and Tuesday and a few friends are clever enough to follow the clues and try to solve the dead man's last puzzle.

There's a little bit of everything in this novel. There's a charming cast of misfits, needy people who are searching for answers to their own lives and problems. The story revolves around Tuesday, her friend, Dex, Dorey, a young girl who lost her mother in an accident, and the needy son of a missing billionaire. But, Tuesday is the link, just as she becomes an idol for some of those searching for Pryce's treasure.  The book is a game, a treasure hunt, a mystery, a ghost story. It's a book with possibilities of a follow-up. It's about literature and pop culture, art and music, and finding out who you are. It's a twisted story of heartache and loss. But, it has wonderful moments of triumph.

In the long run, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts is whatever the reader discovers in the book, about the story, the characters, or about themselves. It's a riveting, charming book.

Kate Racculia's website is

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghost by Kate Racculia. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. ISBN 9780358023937 (hardcover), 359p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Laughing with Obama edited by M. Sweeney

Laughing with Obama, edited by M. Sweeney, is just the kind of book of photographs that some of us need right now. It's nice to remember a President who spoke and joked with love. It's subtitled "A Photographic Look Back at the Enduring Wit and Spirit of President Barack Obama." This is a companion book to Hugs from Obama.

Sweeney says this "is a photographic celebration of the most heartwarming, playful, and humorous moments of Barack Obama's tine in the Oval Office." The photos celebrate eight years of a man who addressed people with humor and laughter. And, some of his quotes are now ironic. Five years ago, he said, "When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything, you just let them talk."

There are a number of his comments from the White House Correspondents' Association Dinners. Of course, those lines were scripted. But, they were still funny. As a basketball fan, and a resident of Indiana, I liked one from 2016. "Ted Cruz had a tough week. He went to Indiana - Hoosier country - stood on a basketball court, and called the hoop a 'basketball ring.' What else is in his lexicon? Baseball sticks? Football hats? But sure, I'm the foreign one."

It's funny how appropriate his remarks still are. Here's from 2013. "I had dinner with a number of the Republican senators. And I'll admit it wasn't easy. I proposed a toast - it died in committee."

The pictures made me nostalgic. There's one with the three living former Presidents, and they're all laughing. He's wearing a tiara in a photo with Girl Scouts. He's in a book store with Michelle.

Both of Sweeney's books made me smile. It was nice to remember a President whose humor wasn't cruel. President Obama's humor often poked fun at himself and views of him. The photos in Laughing with Obama are filmed with warmth. It's clever, and funny. And as I said, the humor isn't cruel. I miss that.

Laughing with Obama: A Photographic Look Back at the Enduring Wit and Spirit of President Barack Obama, edited by M. Sweeney. St. Martin's Press, 2019. ISBN 9781250234605 (hardcover), 122p.

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

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Why You Should Read Children's Books... by Katherine Rundell

There's a recent bestseller called What We Talk About When We Talk About Books. I tried to read it, and gave up because it was too pedantic for me. I much preferred a little book by Katherine Rundell, Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise.

I'm going to ask you a question. Think about it, and you can answer at the end of the blog, when I give you my own answer. If you loved to read as a child, do you remember diving into a book that became your whole world? Those are the books I read, and never heard my mother talk to me. That book was my world while I read it. Here's the actual question. What's the last book that sucked you in that way? Can you still escape into a book?

Rundell quotes W.H. Auden. "There are good books which are only for adults, because their comprehension presupposes adult experiences, but there are no good books which are only for children." Rundell says there are times in life when reading children's books might be the only thing that will do. She mentions our current times of Brexit and Trump, politics, racism, immigration issues, and says now is such a time for her. I had a time like that years ago. When I was twenty-two I was waiting to hear about a job I desperately wanted. The only books that I could read were Nancy Drew mysteries. They were escapism, but also about a strong, independent young woman.

She asks what it's like to read as a child. I shared what she calls "the headlong, hungry, immersive quality of it." She said her need for books was  "sharp and urgent, and furious if thwarted". Rundell, an award-winning British author, then looks at fairy tales, stories recognized in various forms since 1900 B.C. I immersed myself in those, The Blue Fairy Tale Book, The Red Fairy Tale Book. She says fairy tales are violent and bloody and unjust, and don't shield children or adults from that world, but a fairy godmother or a magic tree or a magician appears, and offers hope. She quotes Angela Carter as saying the fairy godmother means "heroic optimism".

I could go on, but Rundell's message is that "Children's books say: the world is huge. They say: hope counts for something. They say: bravery will matter, wit will matter, empathy will matter, love will matter." She admits she doesn't know if that's true, but it's the message people have been passing on for centuries.

This is a meaty little book. I bought my copy, and it's a book to come back to once in a while. That brings me back to my original question. If you were one of those readers who dove into a book, what's the last time you found such a book? Some of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books took me into that world, and I never looked up until I finished. I read each of them straight through in one day. Today, my answer would be one of Louise Penny's Armand Gamache books. They're the only books that take me to Three Pines, into Gamache's world. And, like fairy tales, those are stories of good and evil, darkness versus light. What is the last book that took you into a world where you actually lived?

Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise by Katherine Rundell. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019. 9781526610072 (hardcover), 75p.

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

Friday, October 25, 2019

Winners and Bouchercon

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Nikki B. from Ithaca, NY won The Last Seance. The three copies of Murderabilia went to Jane R. from Driftwood, TX, Carl S. of Lukeville, AZ, and Autumn T. from Portland, OR. The books are going out in the mail today.

There is no contest for this week. I'll be at Bouchercon in Dallas, TX next week. I'll still have some reviews, and, eventually, I hope to have some pictures from Bouchercon. However, if I remember to do it before I leave, I'll kick off another contest on Friday, November 1.

In the meantime, keep reading!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

What Are You Reading?

I'm excited to share the book I'm reading, but I'm writing this in the morning before I've had much chance to read. I'm only 120 pages into it. Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia features a group of misfits, who, along with other teams, set out to find the answer to a quest set by an eccentric billionaire. It's a book about Boston, books, art, and finding the past. There are all kinds of references to popular culture from Vincent Pryce, the man who sets the others on this search, to Edgar Allan Poe, to pop music. It's delightful. I hope the author doesn't let me down. One of my Facebook friends finished it, and said she loved it on so many levels. And, Margie is going to give us a review, I think.

I hope you're reading something you've enjoyed this week. Would you share?

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Penny for Your Secrets by Anna Lee Huber

I wish I had read Anna Lee Huber's first two Verity Kent mysteries, but it can't be helped. Penny for Your Secrets, the third in the series, caught my attention. I'll be watching for future books featuring Verity Kent and her husband, Sydney.

By September 1919, England is returning to normal after the Great War, or, at least as close to normal as a country can get after losing half the men. Verity, who had worked undercover for Special Services, is no longer working for them, and her husband, Sydney, is back home. The young couple had only been married for three days when Sydney went off to war. Now, they have to get used to married life again, to Verity's boredom after an adventurous job, and to Sydney's occasional moods and depression.

Like others in their well-to-do social class, they spend their evenings and nights at parties, or at clubs where they dance and drink too much. It's all a frantic attempt to forget what they've seen in the war, and the people who have been lost. In fact, they are at a dinner party at Lord Rockham's house when his wife, Ada, pulls a gun from her seat at the table, and waves it around, threatening to kill Rockham. When the telephone rings the next day, it's a hysterical Ada. Rockham has been killed, probably by that same gun.

Ada begs Verity to investigate, and she and Sydney agree to question servants and talk to others, including Rockham's first wife. It isn't long before the investigation stalls, and Ada still looks like the most likely suspect. While she never forgets that investigation, Verity and Sydney agree to look into the supposed suicide of a friend's sister. As unlikely as it seems, the two cases seem to have a connection. Somewhere in the murky world of British politics lies a dirty secret.

If you're fascinated by post-war Britain, you might want to pick up this series, or, at least Penny for Your Secrets. It's not a Charles Todd book or a Jacqueline Winspear. It's an atmospheric story that focuses on the lives of the upper class after the war years. Perhaps think of it more as "Downton Abbey". It's an intriguing story with strong hints of continuation. But, it's also the story of a society and a country that is changing. Well-developed, likable characters round out this appealing mystery.

Anna Lee Huber's website is

Penny for Your Secrets by Anna Lee Huber. Kensington, 2019. ISBN 9781496713193 (paperback), 336p.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie

It's always a pleasure to pick up one of Deborah Crombie's Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James novels. However, no matter what she calls the latest book, A Bitter Feast is a treat for the reader. And, that's for any reader. While most of the books in this series should be read in order, Crombie says A Bitter Feast can be read by itself. Even if you've never read one of these books, you should try this British police procedural and story of relationships. All of Crombie's beloved characters have roles in this book.

Duncan and Gemma's family is gathering from all locations for a weekend in the Cotswolds. Melody Talbott, who works with Gemma, has invited the entire family and her co-worker Doug Cullen, to stay at Beck House, her parents' weekend escape. For years, Melody has hidden her family status from co-workers, but this small group knows her father, Sir Ivan, is the publisher of a London newspaper, and her mother, Lady Adelaide, owns the paper and has a great deal of money. But, for the weekend, Ivan and Addie are hosts, and Addie is the host of a charity luncheon catered by Viv Holland, the chef at the Lamb, the local pub.

Gemma and her young daughter, Charlotte, arrive with Melody. But, Duncan is involved in a tragic car accident just before he arrives at Beck House. And, it's a banged-up man who arrives with injuries. Even so, when Ivan provides the opportunity, Kincaid is eager to look into the details of the accident and the lives of the people who died. It seems they were both at the Lamb before they drove off.

Those are only the first deaths connected to the pub, though. When another death is declared a murder, all eyes focus on Viv and the Lamb. And, for some reason, Viv's young daughter is the first to accuse her.

A Bitter Feast is an intriguing puzzle that slowly comes together with input from most of the cast. The beautifully written story is descriptive and atmospheric. But, it's the cast that shines in Crombie's latest book. She allows readers to see the story through Viv's past, Melody's view, and Duncan and Gemma's feelings about the weekend, the aftermath of the accident. She puts it all together as part of the investigation. And, it's a joy to watch Duncan and Gemma's oldest son, Kit, as he steps up to cover work in the kitchen and assist with the younger kids. Kit is observant and caring, while still showing a young man's enthusiasm for cars.

Some readers will enjoy the accounts of all the food in the pub and earlier restaurants. Some will appreciate the gardens. Crombie brings all those elements, and that strong group of characters, together in one of her best books in the series. A Bitter Feast is truly a feast for fans of the series, or for fans of police procedurals.

Deborah Crombie's website is Here are other links for the author - FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Purchase Links: HarperCollins

A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie. William Morrow, 2019. ISBN 9780062271662 (hardcover), 372p.

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas

Blackmail. Costumes. The British Empire. Royalty. Sherry Thomas' fourth Lady Sherlock mystery, The Art of Theft, has all of those familiar elements plus sexual tension. And, Moriarty is still a villain, threatening everyone's happiness.

This time, there are two couples indecisive about their chance at happiness together. And, the third mature couple gave up that opportunity. But, now, the Maharani of Ajmer needs help, and she turns to the woman who once loved her, Mrs. Watson.

Charlotte Holmes schemes to bring her sister, Livia, to London for a visit, so she can escape their parents and spend a little time with Stephen Marbleton, the man she's starting to fall in love with. Lord Ingram, Charlotte's long-time friend, is willing to help with a forged letter to Livia and Charlotte's parents. But, Mrs. Watson has a better plan to bring Livia to town. Unfortunately, the timing is terrible. When the Maharani asks "Sherlock Holmes" for help, and then realizes the task is something that he can't do, she turns to Mrs. Watson. Years earlier, the two women had been in love, and Mrs. Watson feels she rejected her friend for the sake of security. Now, she wants to help her.

The Maharani explains there are missing letters, and someone is blackmailing her. She wants Holmes to steal a painting, a Van Dyck, that's part of a collection to be sold at a yuletide masquerade ball outside Paris. It's not a simple assignment, but Charlotte knows how much she herself owes Mrs. Watson. Although it's not her typical type of job, Charlotte assembles a small team to try to steal a painting.

Charlotte knows there's more to this job than the retrieval of a small collection of romantic letters. She, Mrs. Watson, Livia, Lord Ingram, Marbleton, and "an ally" of Ingram's, rendezvous in Paris to put together their plan of attack. But, no matter how much they plan, there will be some explosive surprises.

Sherry Thomas has the pacing of the Sherlock Holmes stories down perfectly. The story is a little slow at times, as she develops the setting and background. So were Doyle's own stories. These books successfully reverse the sex of the characters with Charlotte Holmes and Mrs. Watson in lead roles. As with Sherlock Holmes, it's fascinating to watch Charlotte's mind at work. But, for me, one of the attractions is the sexual tension between Charlotte and Lord Ingram. There are delicate tantalizing moments that end in frustration.

Charlotte's sister Livia is an insecure, almost spinster who is writing Sherlock Holmes stories. At times, she's frustrating in her insecurity. At other times, she pushes herself so she doesn't disappoint Charlotte. This time, she has her own romantic interest, and an equally frustrating experience.

Sherry Thomas excels at tension with the drama of the current plot, and the romantic tension. This time, though, with The Art of Theft, she leaves the reader wanting more. It's a dramatic, almost cliff-hanger ending to this latest book. Readers will be waiting.

Sherry Thomas' website is

The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas. Berkley, 2019. ISBN 9780451492470 (paperback), 294p.

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

Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Cruel Deception by Charles Todd

While the shadows of politics in Charles Todd's latest Bess Crawford mystery are interesting, the book itself was not. A Cruel Deception is a slow-moving, drawn out story that might appeal to the authors' fans, but most of the rest of us will find it tedious.

Most of the army hospitals in England are closing down, so it doesn't come as a surprise to Sister Bess Crawford when she's sent to nursing headquarters. She expects a reassignment. Instead, Matron asks her to take a personal job. Matron's son, Lawrence, had been working with the British assigned to the peace treaty in Paris. However, Lawrence hasn't shown up at recent meetings. Matron is worried that the soldier, who had been wounded and had a concussion, may now have a drug dependency as many other soldiers did. She asks Bess to go to Paris to track down her son and check on his condition.

While Bess' father, a retired colonel from Lawrence's regiment, is involved in the peace process and doesn't have time to help her, one of his assistants offers help, but Bess is too secretive to accept it. Instead, she searches for Lawrence on her own, and tracks him to St. Ives, where, as his mother suspected, he's become addicted to laudanum in order to escape his nightmares and fears. As Bess soon discovers, some of his fears are real. Lawrence, and later Bess, are targeted by an unknown enemy who seems to know Lawrence's wartime experiences better than he himself does.

I do understand that all mysteries are implausible, but this one bothered me because it's a historical mystery. It seems so unlikely that a British nurse could track down a missing soldier in post-war Paris, amidst all the turmoil and relocation. By the time the mystery itself was solved, I just didn't care.

A Cruel Deception was plodding and slow-moving. The only saving grace was the presence of an American pilot from New Mexico. He was charming, and did his best to keep an eye on Bess, despite her independence. He also provided one amusing twist at the end of the book. Captain Clifford Jackson could have starred in his own series.

Charles Todd's website is

A Cruel Deception by Charles Todd. HarperCollins, 2019. ISBN 9780062859839 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Diva Cooks Up a Storm by Krista Davis

I'm one book behind in this cozy mystery series. But, I enjoy Krista Davis' setting, Old Town Alexandria. And, the mystery is very much character-driven. So, I finally picked up the latest Domestic Diva Mystery, The Diva Cooks Up a Storm.

Sophie Winston is an event planner who is about to leave on a vacation with her friend, Nina. But, the night before, they find time to attend an underground dinner. This time, Sophie gets to attend the event, not just plan and work it. But, it seems there are rumbles of trouble from some of Sophie's neighbors. Hollis Haberman has a new trophy wife, and none of the women at the dinner are eager to welcome her. Sophie overhears Hollis and his ex-wife arguing. And, there have been troubles at the Haberman house, beginning when their yardman was attacked by bees. Hollis doesn't make Sophie feel better about the situation there, asking her to have his food tested for poison.

Sophie's vacation doesn't turn out as expected. A hurricane is heading directly for North Carolina, so she and Nina will have a staycation instead. And, she certainly doesn't expect to find Hollis Haberman dying in the middle of the road that morning. While everyone points at Hollis' new wife as the killer, Sophie doesn't believe the young woman killed him.

Krista Davis has a new publisher for the eleventh book in the series, and fans will be happy to see the return of Sophie Winston and her friends.That's the strength of these books. Sophie is a caring woman, still friends with her ex-husband, Mars. They share custody of their dog. Sophie's friends are active in the community, and their knowledge and interests spur Sophie's investigations. In the course of the series, even Sophie's nemesis, Natasha, has grown to a figure of pity rather than a figure to dislike.

Sophie's an amateur sleuth with time to investigate. This time, she happens to be on vacation, but her profession also provides opportunities to explore the neighborhood and ask questions.

Oh, and the diva part? If readers haven't read the books, Sophie and Natasha both have helpful lifestyle columns which head each chapter. There's a question from a reader, and an answer from one of the two women. There are also recipes included in the book, and Sophie and her friends make them during the course of each story.

The Diva Cooks Up a Storm is another treat from Krista Davis. However, my favorite one in the series is a seasonal one, perfect for October reading. If you can find a copy of The Diva Haunts the House, grab it.

Krista Davis' website is

The Diva Cooks Up a Storm by Krista Davis. Kensington Books, 2018. ISBN 9781496714688 (hardcover), 291p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, October 18, 2019

Winners and A Sinister Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Aubrey H. of Vienna, VA won A Bitter Feast. Terry O. from Divide, CO will receive The Bitterroots. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, I thought it would be appropriate to give away "sinister" books for Halloween. The first is a story collection, The Last Seance, Tales of the Supernatural by Agatha Christie. It's "an all-new collection of her spookiest and most sinister stories, including 'The Wife of Kenite', which has never been published in the United States."

I have several copies of Carl Vonderau's novel, Murderabilia, to give away. William McNary was eight years old when his father went to prison. He's carefully built a life as a family man and a private banker, trying to forget that his father was a serial killer. And, his father photographed his victims. Those pictures launched the "murderabilia" art market. William has tried to forget all of that until his wife's colleague is murdered, and the murder resembles those carefully arranged photos. Only one person can understand the copycat killer, the man William hasn't seen since he was a child.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win The Last Seance" or "Win Murderabilia." Please include your name and mailing address. The contest will end Thursday, Oct. 24 at 5 PM CT.

Because of Bouchercon, this will be the last contest of October. The next contest will kick off on Nov. 1.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

What Are You Reading?

Well, what are you reading this week? Something new? Catching up on something old? A little of
both? We'd all like to know.

I'm catching up on a favorite series. I hadn't read Krista Davis' 2018 Domestic Diva mystery, The Diva Cooks Up a Storm, and the 2019 one is out. I don't care about household hints, but I like Sophie Winston, the amateur sleuth. And, I love the setting of Old Town Alexandria because I spent a little time there when I was in grad school. In this one, a lawyer friend of Sophie's sours a pop-up dinner party when he brings his new trophy wife to the party. By the next day he's the one who is struggling to live.

This is a fun cozy mystery series. How about you? What are you reading this week? Mystery, fiction, nonfiction? We're curious!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution's Women by Kate Quinn, et al.

Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution's Women is a heartbreaking book. The six authors told the stories of women who were intimately involved with the French Revolution, as instigators, writers, politicians, survivors. Some of the women were executed on the guillotine. However, even the survivors lost loved ones, their purpose, their dignity. The authors point out that women are usually the losers in revolution, in marriage, in life. And, in the 18th century, no matter how they started out, they were crushed under weight of men's power and cruelty.

While Ribbons of Scarlet is not an easy book to summarize, the stories flow easily from one to another. Each author focused on one woman, but their lives intersected, and Heather Webb, who wrote the second part, introduced most of the characters. Stephanie Dray kicked off the book with the story of Sophie de Grouchy, "The Philosopher", a woman who married a man who treated her as an intellectual equal, but she learned to love him. Each author selected a woman who helped to shape the French Revolution. Heather Webb said they shaped it "through their pens, their speeches, their battles in the streets, and their sacrifices. Webb selected Louise "Reine" Audu, a radical activist caught up in the mob violence, whose life ended tragically. And, Webb emphasizes women's fierce nature as she writes of "The Revolutionary".

Sophie Perinot took on the third woman, another woman who changed her life and hopes for a man, her brother, and whose end was tragic. Perinot writes of "The Princess", "Madame Elizabeth", sister of Louis XVI. When her brother asked her to give up her hopes of being a nun, she stays by his side. But, she's a complex character, as Perinot shows.

Manon Roland is a woman who became a politician's wife. In today's world, she herself would be the brilliant politician and writer. Instead, she became the force behind her husband, as Kate Quinn shows in part four, "The Politician". But, she was not respected for her brilliant words. Instead, she and her husband were mocked because it was known she wrote his speeches. This force behind the man was another woman whose life was cut short.

E. Knight writes of the one woman with a name many will recognize, Charlotte Corday, "The Assassin" who tried to end the bloodshed of the revolution by killing the man she thought was one of the forces behind it, Marat. She thought he had incited massacres in his newspaper, and she hoped to save the Republic.

Laura Kamoie tells of the tragedy that may have finally hit home with the people in the chapter "The Beauty". She writes of Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe Sartine, the daughter of a courtesan who was a young beauty. And, Emilie's story intersects with some of the other women from the very beginning when she's a young girl.

Ribbons of Scarlet is not a pretty story. It spans the entire length of the French Revolution, and Napoleon is about to take the stage as Emperor by the end of the book. "By 1793, years of political unrest, revolution, and chance had transformed Paris into a city of ugliness and hate." And, many of the women of this book, actual women whose lives are portrayed in the novel, were viewed as whores. "That is the word for any woman with an opinion and a voice to express it." Sound familiar?

Tragedy. I used that word numerous times in this summary. The revolution itself ended in tragedy and death for so many. You'll find women in these pages who wrote about human rights, wrote against slavery, marched for women's rights, not just the rights of men. But, what happens to those kind of women? People "Killed women for being too political, too intelligent, too opinionated, too darling, too pretty." And, it's still going on today. The authors of Ribbons of Scarlet emphasize women's roles, and what happens to women in this noel of revolution.

Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb. HarperCollins Publishers, 2019. ISBN 9780062952196 (hardcover), 560p.

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

I'm going to complain again today about the categorization of novels. Don't get me wrong. I loved Jane Harper's The Lost Man. She brings the Australian outback, with its heat and dirt and isolation, to life. But, a thriller? I wouldn't call it a thriller at all. I was fascinated by the family dynamics, though. And, I appreciate a title that has a double meaning. Is Nathan Bright the focus of the story? Is he the lost man? Is it his brother, Cameron, who is found dead before the story begins? Although I take it Nathan was lost, because the story focuses on him and his feelings, I could be persuaded otherwise.

It's just before Christmas, and Nathan's son, Xander, is visiting for the holiday. They were going to spend the holiday at the family ranch, but after Nathan's brother, Cameron, is found dead a distance from their Queensland, Australia home, Nathan and Xander arrive early. Cameron had set out to meet the youngest brother, Bub, to work on ranch equipment. He never showed up. Instead, he was found stranded, dead from exposure to the hot weather and deserted country. What was Cameron doing out there all by himself?

It's a mystery that Nathan slowly unwinds, torturing himself as he searches for answers to Cameron's death, and to what went wrong with Nathan's own life. He's divorced; has a troubled custody arrangement with his ex-wife, and misses Xander. He's also an outcast in the small nearby town, and, as much as he wanted forgiveness for his past, he can't forgive people around him. He had a rough upbringing, and he's still haunted by those memories. Now, Nathan is worried that his nieces will be haunted by their father's death.

The Lost Man is actually a story of an isolated family with troubles partially caused by that isolation on a cattle ranch in the outback. But, there's so much more to the story, a depth and a puzzle and a search for answers. The story unfolds so gradually, with so much complexity, that to say more about the story itself might reveal too much. It's a fascinating, atmospheric story. And, Jane Harper deserves all the praise she's received for her writing. However, a thriller? No. The Lost Man is not a thriller. It's a powerful story of fear and power and family dynamics.

Jane Harper's website is

The Lost Man by Jane Harper. Flatiron Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250105684 (hardcover), 340p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, October 14, 2019

Girls Like Us by Christina Alger

This is just a hypothetical question. And, I've been reading and reviewing books long enough to know that the publisher actually picks a category for a book to generate sales. Libraries also classify fiction. And, who is to say that any of us are right? So why is a book called psychological suspense? To be honest, normally I wouldn't pick up a book defined that way. Maybe Christina Alger's  Girls Like Us is psychological suspense. Maybe it's a police procedural. It's really just a novel featuring an FBI agent who investigates her late father.

Nell Flynn is on leave from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. She shot a man, but she was also wounded. As of yet, she hasn't done what she has to do to return to duty. In some ways, it's perfect timing, Her father, a homicide detective with Suffolk County, died in a motorcycle accident. She assumes he was drinking, as usual, but his fellow officers, including his best friend, Chief Glenn Dorsey, will cover that up. Nell has to clean up the house, and try to uncover her own unresolved feelings about the man she hasn't really communicated with in ten years.

While Nell is still home, a dog finds a woman's body buried on the beach. It's been dismembered and wrapped in burlap. Lee Davis, a former high school classmate, now a homicide detective, asks Nell if she will consult on the case. It's not the first body discovered in Suffolk County. A year earlier, the body of another young woman was found, killed and wrapped in burlap. Nell's father, Martin Flynn, handled that unsolved case. The more Nell digs, the more she suspects her father might have been involved in the deaths. And, those deaths bring back memories of Nell's mother, brutally murdered when the seven-year-old was on a camping trip with her father.

Girls Like Us is a fast-paced, intriguing story for those of us who like to follow along with the interviews and investigation. Nell Flynn has an interesting voice as an FBI agent unsure of her future, and, in so many ways, uncomfortable with her past. The story has one unexpected scene more shocking than the discovery of the bodies, but it makes sense. And, published when it was, the book was a remarkable forecast of events over the summer.

Is Girls Like Us psychological suspense? You be the judge.

Christina Alger's website is

Girls Like Us by Christina Alger. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2019. ISBN 9780593085813 (hardcover), 276p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Good Man Gone Bad by Gar Anthony Haywood

It's been a long time since I read one of Gar Anthony Haywood's books. In the mid-90s, I read the two books he wrote about Joe and Dottie Loudermilk, a retired African-American couple who traveled the U.S. in their camper. I had never read any of the Aaron Gunner books. And, it has been nineteen years between the books in this series. Gunner is back in Good Man Gone Bad.

Aaron Gunner may appear to be a streetwise, sixty-year-old private investigator, but he's always depended on his cousin, Del. Del has been his confidante and best friend. But, Del's final phone call almost destroys Gunner. Del blames himself for the shooting of his wife and daughter, and then shoots himself. That's what the evidence shows, according to the police. Gunner can't accept that his cousin would shoot the women he loved.

While Del's daughter lingers in the hospital, Gunner searches for answers as to why the good man he always admired would shoot anyone. But, there were secrets in Del's life. His business was in financial trouble. Gunner begins to wonder if he knew his cousin any better than he knows the suspect in another shooting, a fellow Vietnam vet who might have snapped. As Aaron's investigations lead him through the sometimes violent streets of South Los Angeles, he realizes even a good man can be pushed too far.

Gar Anthony Haywood won the Shamus Award for Fear of the Dark, the mystery that introduced Aaron Gunner. In this latest book, the PI has even more reasons to be a brooding, troubled man. Haywood reminds readers of man's complex motives, and that there's always the possibility of violence, even when the perpetrator seems unlikely. After a nineteen year absence, Haywood brings back a dogged investigator determined to find the truth, no matter how much it hurts.

Gar Anthony Haywood's website is

Good Man Gone Bad by Gar Anthony Haywood. Prospect Park Books, 2019. ISBN 9781945551666 (paperback), 236p.

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

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Christmas Cocoa Murder by Carlene O'Connor, Maddie Day & Alex Erickson

Carlene O'Connor, Maddie Day and Alex Erickson have more in common than the facts that they write cozy mysteries featuring amateur sleuths. Each of their novellas in Christmas Cocoa Murder features cocoa. Well, duh. Of course. They are also all enjoyable stories, which is unusual in a collection. Often, one story is weaker than the others. All three of these will please cozy mystery fans looking for new Christmas stories.

In "Christmas Cocoa Murder", Carlene O'Connor sweeps us off to Kilbane, County Cork, Ireland, where Siobhan O'Sullivan has just graduated, and will be Garda O'Sullivan in the new year. Her Christmas break is a time to relax and celebrate with her five siblings. But, it seems someone has been stealing dogs, including the O'Sullivans' Trigger. When the local Santa is found dead in a tank of cocoa at the town's Christmas extravaganza, the dogs are also found. Santa may have been a thief, but who would want to kill him?

"Christmas Cocoa and a Corpse" by Maddie Day takes readers to Brown County, Indiana where Robbie Jordan runs a country store that serves breakfast and lunch. This year, she's selling her popular cocoa mix. But the police confiscate all the packets after a dislikable local businessman is found dead. And, the father of Robbie's boyfriend gave the man a box of those mixes for a present. Despite the hectic Christmas rush at the country store, Robbie is determined to prove her possible future father-in-law isn't a killer.

Was it "Death by Hot Cocoa" for the man who set up a Christmas escape room in Alex Erickson's novella? Bookstore cafe owner Krissy Hancock accompanies a friend, and enjoys the puzzle of her first escape room. However, it isn't as much fun when the participants find their host dead, and realize they're trapped in the escape room with a body and a killer.

Each of the stories has a likable amateur sleuth. The first two are set in small communities, where family and friends play major roles. The third story could be set anyplace, but the answers are dependent on a small group of participants. Christmas Cocoa Murder is an enjoyable collection. I'd suggest you settle down with the book and a nice cup of cocoa, but this might not be the right suggestion. (wink)

Christmas Cocoa Murder by O'Connor, Day, and Erickson. Kensington Books, 2019. ISBN 9781496723604 (hardcover), 346p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, October 11, 2019

Winners and A "Bitter" Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Ice Cold Heart will go to Christopher S. in Eden, NY. Mark B. from Santa Clarita, CA won Iced in Paradise. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away two "bitter" books. A Bitter Feast is Deborah Crombie's latest Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery. However, Crombie told an audience this week that this one can stand alone, so don't hesitate to enter to win it even if you haven't read books in the series. Duncan, Gemma, and their children head to the Cotswolds for a relaxing weekend at Beck House. The glorious fall getaway is centered around a posh charity harvest luncheon catered by an up-and-coming chef. But, while they're there, a tragic car accident and a series of mysterious deaths pull Duncan and Gemma into the investigation. And, it seems as if the deaths may be connected to the chef's pub, or to Beck House.

Or, you could win C.J. Box' The Bitterroots. Former police officer Cassie Dewell is trying to start over as a private investigator. But her plans are turned upside down when an old friend calls in a favor. She wants Cassie to help exonerate a man accused of assaulting a young woman from an influential family. She reluctantly agrees, but out by Montana's Bitterroot Mountains, loyalty runs deep, and it's not easy to uncover the truth.

Which "bitter" book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win A Bitter Feast" or "Win The Bitterroots." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, October 17 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

No Judgments by Meg Cabot

Sometimes, a fun, humorous romance is just the perfect escape. When it's a Meg Cabot book set in the Florida Keys, it's even better. In No Judgments, Cabot creates great characters; quirky, odd, kind, and giving. Throw in an enormous cast of animals, everything from cats and dogs to guinea pigs and cockatiels, and it's a wild ride. Hurricane Marilyn just throws it all together beautifully.

Although Bree Beckham's mother hated Little Bridge, Florida, her late father always loved the island in the Florida Keys. Thst's where Bree escapes when her relationship went sour. She works at the Mermaid diner, and she enjoys her co-workers and her grumpy boss. When a level 5 hurricane, Hurricane Marilyn, is predicted to be heading straight for Little Bridge, Bree never seriously thinks about evacuating. Her ex-boyfriend, Caleb, offers to send his private jet to get her out of there. Her mother, a famous radio judge, Judge Justine, calls constantly, begging her to leave. But, Bree is naive enough to think she can easily ride through the hurricane. And, where would she go with her rescue cat Gary?

Even when a mandatory evacuation is announced, and Bree's roommate, a nurse, says the ER staff, police and fire are leaving, Bree stays. But, she's never been through a hurricane. She doesn't really understand the consequences until her boss' wife, Mrs. Hartwell, invites her to their hurricane party, and says she can stay at their house, which is on high ground. The Hartwell's nephew, Drew, the island heartthrob, taunts her, calling her Fresh Water, because he can see she's naive, and doesn't really understand about the lack of water, power, and ability to get around the island.

Bree does understand one thing, though. When the hurricane is over, and people can't get to Little Bridge, it's not just people who are stranded. What about all of the pets who were on the island. Now, she's frantically developing a plan to take care of all of the animals. And, despite her vow to stay away from Drew Hartwell, he's just the animal-loving caretaker she needs. There might be more to the island stud than meets the eye.

As I said, Cabot's characters are great, as are her descriptions of island life. Once you meet the people and animals of Little Bridge, it's hard to let go at the end of the book.

Remember when I recommended Christina Lauren's The Unhoneymooners in July? If you enjoyed that humorous contemporary romance, you might want to try No Judgments. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Here's the purchase link to HarperCollins, the publisher.

Meg Cabot's website is

No Judgments by Meg Cabot. William Morrow, 2019. ISBN 9780062890047 (paperback), 384p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy to participate in the TLC Book Tour.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

What Are You Reading?

Although I'm reading an excellent book, Jane Harper's The Lost Man, I want to tell you what I did yesterday, and what I'm going to be reading. I went to St. Louis with a friend and blogger, Kathy Boone Reel, who blogs at Deborah Crombie is on book tour for her latest Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery, A Bitter Feast. We went to see her at The London Tea Room in St. Louis. Wonderful tea. Now, I'm looking forward to reading the book.

Deborah Crombie at The London Tea Room

With Deborah Crombie

So, what are reading this week? Anything good? Let us know, even if you didn't care for the book. We're always curious!

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate

Marty Wingate kicks off a new cozy series, The First Edition Library Mysteries, with The Bodies in the Library. To be honest, I preferred the police over the amateur sleuth, though. For a change in a debut cozy, the investigating police officers are kind and intelligent while the sleuth herself bumbles her way through the book.

Hayley Burke is not really qualified to be curator of Lady Georgiana Fowling's First Edition Library in Bath, England. She knows nothing about the Golden Age of Mystery, and hasn't read Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers or Ngaio Marsh. The small group that writes fan fiction and meets in the library is much more familiar with Lady Fowling's favorite authors than Hayley is. But, when one of those writers ends up dead, and the police don't seem to have any leads, Hayley decides to step in. She's going to read an Agatha Christie mystery and solve the case as if she was Miss Jane Marple. What would Miss Marple do?

That's the question Hayley asks herself as she questions the police, follows suspects, and feels threatened by a few of the men involved in the case. Along the way, she meets a college lecturer who distracts her from the inattention paid her by her so-called boyfriend. He's one bright spot in Hayley's life. She's a pushover for her daughter and her boyfriend, and allows them to walk all over her.

Hayley, who is in her mid-forties, just wasn't my cup of tea. Her lack of confidence and lack of knowledge wore me down, as did the length of the book. I think it could have been shortened. My recommendation is to actually read the authors of the Golden Age mysteries if that's what you're looking for. However, there may be readers who enjoy Hayley's attempt to play detective in The Bodies in the Library.

The Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate. Berkley Prime Crime, 2019. ISBN 9781984804105 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones

Undocumented immigrants. ICE. Missing young women. Sex trafficking. If it sounds as if it's the latest newspaper account of Trump's policies, it's not. Stephen Mack Jones' second August Snow novel, Lives Laid Away, gives a whole new meaning to "Neighborhood Watch".

After winning a twelve million dollar settlement against the city of Detroit for wrongful termination, ex-cop August Snow settled in his childhood neighborhood of Mexicantown, buying up property and renovating it, as he tries to bring back the area. But, the friendly neighborhood is uneasy. ICE, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement police, are trolling the streets, mapping potential spots and safe houses for undocumented immigrants. And, Snow, whose father was an African-American cop and mother was a Mexican-American artist, hears the stories from frightened people even in the grocery store.

When the newspapers report that "Marie Antoinette took a header off the Ambassador Bridge", police want to quickly dismiss the case as just another suicide. But, Bobby Falconi in the coroner's office sees it differently, and lets Snow know the girl was raped, brutalized and drugged. Snow's godmother, Elena, an activist for human rights, identifies her as Isadora Rosalie del Torres, a nineteen-year-old undocumented worker from Mexico City. ICE raided the restaurant where she worked, and Izzy disappeared into the system. Snow is shocked when his beloved godmother, armed, takes him to a clandestine meeting where he's told that Izzy wasn't the first or last young woman to disappear. There seems to be sex trafficking going on in Detroit.

August Snow, ex-cop, former Marine in Afghanistan, is just the person to trek through the muck of strip joints, bars, and back rooms to discover who is behind the new sex trade in undocumented women. Together with his godfather, Tomas, and a few friends with specialties, Snow is determined to root out the current evil in his world.

I never read Jones' debut novel, August Snow, although it went on to win the Hammett and Nero Awards. But, I'll follow the series now, and I'll introduce my brother-in-law to it. Snow is a character whose heart is big enough to accommodate all of his neighbors, while his anger can wipe out an entire room. The latest book has wonderful characters, and, at times, moments of that cop humor, although the story deals with a serious subject. There's religion and poetry and love, right alongside guns and crime and violence. And, I have to admit one short scene, a story from Afghanistan, made me tear up.

I wish I had the time to catch every outstanding novel as they come out. I'm just glad I caught up with August Snow by the second book in the series, Lives Laid Away.

Stephen Mack Jones' website is

Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones. Soho Crime, 2019. ISBN 9781616959593 (hardcover), 296p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, October 07, 2019

A Legacy of Murder by Connie Berry

Kate Hamilton is caught up in antiques, murder, and a troubled personal life in the second intriguing mystery by Connie Berry, A Legacy of Murder. This time, the American antiques dealer is in Suffolk County, England, rather than Scotland, but she's still in a charming, atmospheric village just before Christmas.

It's just been a month since Kate met Detective Inspector Thomas Mallory while they were both on vacation in Scotland. They were tangled up in a murder investigation, but now is Kate's chance to get to know him better, while also taking the opportunity to spend time with her college-age daughter, Christine. Christine is an intern at Finchley Hall in Long Barston in Suffolk, and she snagged a room for her mother on the property. The interns are preparing for an exhibit of the Finchley Hoard, a collection of treasures buried and hidden in 1546 during a Peasants' Revolt, and only unearthed in 1818.

Kate's on a tour of the estate when a young boy finds the body of one of the interns. Tabitha was in charge of preparing the exhibit, and now that she's been murdered, Lady Barbara Finchley-fforde is afraid the show will have to be cancelled. She needs the money for upkeep of the property, so she proposes that Kate take over the preparation. Kate knows Tom will be busy with the murder investigation. Christine is preoccupied with her job and a boyfriend. So, she agrees, but it isn't long before she finds Tabitha's notes about a discrepancy in the collection. However, between her research, Christine's tantrums over her boyfriend, and more troubles on the estate, Kate doesn't have time to investigate the discrepancies. When another murder occurs, and there are thefts of small pieces from other homes, Kate worries about the connection to Finchley Hall and the valuable collection. And, Tabitha's murder, along with the rumors, are eerily similar to the murder of another intern twenty-three years earlier.

Connie Berry has a fascinating set-up for a character-driven, atmospheric series, and she leaves a clue as to where the third book will be going. Kate Hamilton is a well-developed character, so well-developed that it's easy to get exasperated with her and her problems with her immature daughter who tends to be stubborn and behave inappropriately. But, Kate's part of the sandwich generation, caught between an aging mother who she adores, and her demanding daughter who becomes a murder suspect. She's a widow who has her own issues, but she shows maturity and growth in her decisions.

There are some delightful new characters introduced in this second book, a knowledgeable antiques dealer, as well as Lady Barbara and her friend Vivian. There's also humor involving the rivalry between an old pub and one opened by newcomers to the village. Readers might start the series because of the settings in Scotland and England, or the connection and information about antiques. The mysteries combine cold cases with local legends and stories, which make them appealing. But, readers will continue to come back because of Kate Hamilton. And, it doesn't hurt that Tom Mallory cares deeply for Kate, and respects her knowledge and ability. That's refreshing. Connie Berry's series is refreshing with a realistic, mature amateur sleuth.

If you're a fan of Jane K. Cleland's mysteries, check out A Dream of Death and A Legacy of Murder.

Connie Berry's website is

A Legacy of Murder by Connie Berry. Crooked Lane Books, 2019.  ISBN 9781643851549 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Beyond a Reasonable Stout by Ellie Alexander

Someday, I'm going to go back and read Ellie Alexander's other series, The Bakeshop Mysteries. A librarian friend who isn't a big cozy mystery reader raves about those books. Alexander and her characters suck a reader into a series, whether the subject matter is of interest or not. I really don't care about beer or craft beer brewing, but the Sloan Krause mysteries are appealing because of the characters, and the mystery of Sloan's own background. Beyond a Reasonable Stout is interesting despite my lack of interest in brewing.

Sloan Krause is a brewer, celebrating the end of Oktoberfest and the few quiet days. Leavenworth, Washington, has become well-known for the craft beer industry, and its celebration lasted a month. It might be a quiet time for the beer industry, and Nitro, the brewery where Sloan works, but the town has its own turmoil. Election time is coming up, and Kristopher Cooper, an incumbent city council member, is running on a temperance platform. Despite Leavenworth's reputation for beer and all things German, Cooper wants a dry town. When Sloan and Garrett, Nitro's owner, attend a town meeting, locals are vocal in their opposition to Kristopher. However, when he's seen after the meeting, a smug Kristopher seems to have his reasons for optimism. He has arguments, though, with local business people, including April Ablin, the town's self-appointed ambassador.

Despite the anger, Sloan is shocked the next morning when she stops to see April and finds the sheriff arresting her for Kristopher's murder. Even with the arrest, the sheriff mentions to Sloan that April could use a friend and someone to help her. Sloan isn't a big fan of April's, but she doesn't think of the woman as a killer. She's willing to ask questions about Kristopher to find other suspects.

While Sloan might be willing to investigate, she has her own personal problems. She's going through with her divorce, but she worries about her fifteen-year-old son, Alex. And, she's afraid of losing the only family she ever knew, her husband's parents and brother. Sloan grew up in foster care, and she doesn't easily reveal herself to others. But, little by little, she's trying to learn more about her parentage, with help from a social worker.

Whether you're interested in beer, craft brewing, an interesting tourist town in a cozy mystery, or intriguing characters, Ellie Alexander's Sloan Krause series is worth picking up. I'd start with the first book, though, Death on Tap. It won't take long for you to arrive at the third one, Beyond a Reasonable Stout.

Ellie Alexander's website is

Beyond a Reasonable Stout by Ellie Alexander. Minotaur Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250205759 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Sarah Jane by James Sallis

I had never read one of James Sallis' books when I received Sarah Jane. Lyrical, powerful, haunting,
ambiguous ending. There are so many terms to describe this disturbing book. I seldom say a book is a must-read, and I'm the last person to read for language. But, Sallis' spare, concise writing is worth reading. This crime fiction book should be picked up by anyone who appreciates a turn of phrase, the graceful use of language.

Sarah Jane narrates her life story. When she says, right up front, I didn't do all of the things they claim I did, the reader is sucked into the story of a flawed character. She tells of growing up in the south on the Tennessee, Alabama border, where her father takes responsibility, and says to her, "We're from good hillbilly stock, Pretty. We don't call the police." That's ironic, considering Sarah Jane's future with cops, and as a cop, but it's still the truth of her life.

Her mother abandons the family, coming and going from their home, but gone more often than not. Sarah Jane herself leaves home at sixteen to bum around, live with hippies, get arrested. She's told it's jail or the service, so she ends up in the army in the Mideast. She loses a close friend, and ends up back in the U.S., where she cooks at various diners and restaurants to survive. Eventually, she marries an abusive cop, leaves him, lives with another cop. And, then Sarah Jane herself becomes a cop in a small town called Farr.

And, one day, Sarah Jane becomes acting sheriff when her mentor disappears. As she looks for clues to his disappearance, she finds clues to a troubled man who came home from the service with PTSD. But, her search is interrupted when Sarah Jane's own past comes calling in the forms of an FBI agent and a cop.

Sarah Jane's narration of her life seems to be a straightforward story. However, it's a story with ambiguous moments when the reader is unsure of Sarah Jane's actions and responsibility for "accidents". What the reader is sure of is that Sallis uses a straightforward memoir format to tell a complicated story.

Sarah Jane is complicated, but, oh, Sallis' sentences! It's hard to resist philosophical phrases such as "simpler times when, mistakenly or not, we understood the American dream to be collaborative rather than competitive."  Or, "All stories are ghost stories, about things lost, people, memories, home, passion, youth, about things struggling to be seen, to be accepted, by the living."

He says, "The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the examined life, any examined life at all, is for damn sure going to surprise, confound and disturb you." That's Sarah Jane.

James Sallis' website is

Sarah Jane by James Sallis. Soho Press, 2019. ISBN 9781641290807 (hardcover), 216p.

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

Friday, October 04, 2019

Winners and an Ice, Ice Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Charlotte W. from Covington, GA won The Moth Catcher. The Long Call goes to Lauren K. from Reading, MA. The books are going out in the mail today.

Temperatures dropped today here from our 90s, and that will probably be it until next summer. And, places such as Montana already have snow. In recognition of that winter weather I hate, I'm giving away books with ice in the title.

Fortunately, one of them is Iced in Paradise, the first in Naomi Hirahara's new series set in Hawaii.
Leilani Santiago returns home from Seattle after her mother is diagnosed with MS. She wants to help with the family, and with the family business, a shave ice shack. She ends up helping with a murder investigation when her father's surfing protege is murdered, and her father is the primary suspect.

From Hawaii, we move to Minnesota, where the winter ice really is a factor in P.J. Tracy's Monkeewrench novel, Ice Cold Heart. When Detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth are called to a murder scene, they find a woman dead in her friend's vacant house. However, the woman's husband had no ideas she had a dangerous secret life. It's a tough case, but Roadrunner from the Monkeewrench team rescues a frozen woman who just might have the key to the wide-reaching case.

Which icy 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 Iced in Paradise" or "Win Ice Cold Heart." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, October 10 at 5 PM CT.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

What Are You Reading?

Did you have a good reading week? I hope so. If not, I hope it was because you were busy, in a good

I'm reading D.M. Quincy's Dec. 10 release, Murder at the Opera. It's the third Atlas Catesby mystery, set in Regency London. I love the adventurer Atlas Catesby and the people he's surrounded by in this series. Quincy does a wonderful job with the atmosphere and the customs in society at the time.

I'm also reading Leah Price's nonfiction book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading. Slow-going with that one, no matter how much I'm interested in the subject. I've read less than 50 pages.

What are you reading this week? Please tell us!

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

A House of Ghosts by W. C. Ryan

If I was putting together my top ten books of 2019 right now, W. C. Ryan's A House of Ghosts would be in the top five. The engrossing ghost story/historical mystery is definitely one of the best books I've read this year. Fans of Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge mysteries might want to pick up this book. It has everything - spies, ghosts, wartime issues, a touch of romance, an isolated house mystery a la Agatha Christie. It's wonderful. It was released in the U.K. last year, where it went on to be a finalist for the NBA Irish Book Awards Crime Fiction Book of the Year. I'm not the only one impressed by this story.

It's 1917, and Great Britain has already lost a number of young men in World War I. Armaments manufacturer Lord Highmount lost both of his sons. His house, Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the coast of Devon, has a reputation of being haunted, and he hopes to take advantage of that. He invites a number of people, including two mediums, to the island, with hopes he can contact his sons. Kate Cartwright, whose brother was lost at the Somme, and the mysterious Captain Robert Donovan, attend the gathering on behalf of the Secret Intelligence Service. Kate has her own inherited ability to see ghosts, and Donovan has his orders. The SIS suspects a spy will be there, someone who has passed secret weapons designs to the Germans.

It's an uncomfortable gathering, with two sets of parents desperate to contact their sons, Kate and Donovan on the look out for suspicious actions, the mediums with their own agendas, and several younger people, including Kate's former, and now pretend, fiancé. It doesn't grow any more comfortable after the seance the first night when a former solider who was trapped underground for eighteen days communicates with the dead, or when one set of parents hear their son. But, it isn't a ghost who cuts the telephone line, opens secret passages, and leaves a man dead.

A House of Ghosts is a riveting story. While it's a ghost story and a mystery, it also tells of a lost generation and the cruelty of war, tunnels and capture, gas, ships sunk by U-boats. It's a story of spies and wars, disguised as a ghost story. As I said, it's one of my favorite books of the year.

W.C. Ryan's website is

Note: W.C. Ryan is also known as William Ryan, author of the critically acclaimed Captain Korolev historical crime novels.

A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan. Arcade CrimeWise (Skyhorse Publishing), 2019. ISBN 9781948924719 (hardcover), 384p.

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