Saturday, November 30, 2019

Murder Off the Page by Con Lehane

This is probably blasphemy, but I actually like Mike Cosgrove, the homicide cop in Con Lehane's latest book better than I like Raymond Ambler, the librarian. Ambler seems to live in his head too much in  Murder Off the Page. As Cosgrove reminds him "You're an amateur. For some reason, this time you're not helping."

Ambler and his friend and co-worker Adele Morgan, are dragged into an unusual case by Ambler's bartender friend Brian McNulty. For sone reason that he won't tell Ambler, McNulty is committed to helping a woman who behaves erratically in the Library Tavern. Ambler and Adele are introduced to her as Shannon Darling, and they witness her behavior with me. But, McNulty is very protective of her.

But, Ambler and Morgan had already met Shannon at the 42nd Street Library, where she was using the crime fiction collection for research on a writer who had recently given her papers to the library. She was totally different at the library than she was in the bar. Even after they observed her behavior at the bar, though, they were both surprised to learn a man had been found murdered in a hotel room registered in her name. And, she and McNulty both disappeared.

McNulty asks Ambler for help, but, before he can do anything, there's a second murder. Now, McNulty's on the run, on the top of the suspect list. Raymond feels guilty for not believing in his friend, so he takes matters into his own hands as he looks for answers, and doesn't always confide in Cosgrove as early as he should.

Raymond Ambler is a troubled man. He blames his politics and his past for his lack of a PhD. He wasn't around much as his son grew up, a young man who ended up in prison for first degree manslaughter. He fought for joint custody of his grandson, Johnny, but doesn't have the money to hire a good lawyer for his son, John. And, he doesn't always do a good job handling relationships, whether with Adele or his boss or Johnny. He lacks good judgment when it comes to personal relationships.

Even in his investigations, it's Adele who pushes him to take action. He goes back and forth between indecisive and sometimes rash actions. And, those rash actions sometimes put people in jeopardy.

Murder Off the Page is a character-driven mystery. I have to admit I didn't feel a great deal of sympathy for the victim. However, I did feel for the two children in the book, caught up in the tragedies of their parents' lives. And, it's those children who propelled Adele to push Raymond for action. And, I felt for McNulty. But, I totally agree with Mike Cosgrove that Ambler wasn't always helpful in this case.

Con Lehane's website is www.conlehane.com

Murder Off the Page by Con Lehane. Minotaur Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250317926 (hardcover), 323p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book from the publisher, with hopes I would review it.




Friday, November 29, 2019

What Are You Reading?

Did you survive the Thanksgiving crash with too much food? I had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends - always lots of laughter and great food. Now, I'm ready to talk about books!

I'm reading Con Lehane's third 42nd Street Library mystery, Murder Off the Page. Raymond Ambler, curator of the crime fiction collection at New York City's 42nd Street Library, gets involved in another murder investigation when his friend, bartender Brian McNulty, disappears, and then becomes the prime suspect in a death.

Have you had any time to read this week? What are you reading? If you haven't had reading time, I hope you're enjoying time spent with family and friends.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!



As I did last year, I'm going to give thanks in reverse. I usually end my Thanksgiving post by thanking you, my blog readers and friends. Instead, I'd like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and say I'm grateful for you. I'm thankful you spend a little bit of time every day or every week with other people who like to read and talk about books. Thank you for dropping by, even if you don't comment. I hope you've found a spot to discover a new book or author, or even another reader who likes similar books. Thank you for stopping here.

I'm thankful this year, as always, for my family and friends. I'm spending this day with my "local family", my best friend, Donna, her husband, Terry, and her mother, Mickie. Terry's cooking dinner while the three of us are heading to the movies to see "Knives Out". We'll stay out of his kitchen, and then we'll all enjoy conversation and laughter when we're together. If I don't go to my sister's, I spend Thanksgiving with Donna and Terry. I'm grateful for friends that I love. And, I'm grateful for the love of my family in Ohio, who understand when I don't drive home for the weekend. But, they know how much I love them.

I'm grateful for a comfortable life with my cats, my books, friends, and the ability to travel. And, recognizing this is the perfect life for me makes for a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Stop back tomorrow, and we'll talk about books and what we're reading. I hope you have a few minutes to yourself this weekend for quiet time, to think, to read, to just relax.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Christmas Keeper by Jenn McKinlay

I can always count on Jenn McKinlay for moments of humor, whether it's in her mysteries, her romances, or, in real life. The Christmas Keeper is just what I enjoy in a contemporary romance. It involves kind people with a sense of humor. It doesn't hurt that it's set between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And, it certainly doesn't hurt that, as A Happily Ever After Romance, the Happily Ever After bookstore in Fairdale, North Carolina is part of the story.

After Savannah Wilson loses her job in publishing, she launches a publicity campaign for her friend Maisy's romance bookstore. Savannah sees it as a means to help Maisy and find a way back to Manhattan by making a splash. She's made a splash with Joaquin (Quino) Solis, though. He'd be quite happy if the redhead decided to stay in Fairdale. In fact, he told his best friend that he'd be married to Savannah by Christmas. However, when he learns her plans and her dream of a publicity job back in New York, he's willing to help her save the bookstore, attain her dream job, and leave him behind.

But, Quino is a pretty special man. He lost his parents in a car accident ten years earlier, an accident that left his sister, Desiree, with some brain trauma. He's worked for ten years on their family ranch to give her a life and freedom. So, he's shocked when she makes a radical life change just before Christmas. Christmas means so much to him and Desiree. He can't believe she's ready to take on her own life and responsibilities, and leave him behind at Christmas.

This is a sexy romance, a love story between two needy, lonely people. But, as in all romances, there's conflict. Which one loves the other enough to give up the love and passion they share to allow the other person to have their dreams? It appears Quino will do anything to help Savannah return to New York. Does Savannah understand Quino's love of home and family, the importance of both after he lost his parents?

Looking for a contemporary Christmas romance? How about one with a sexy rancher with a sense of humor who loves mistletoe and Christmas? Jenn McKinlay's The Christmas Keeper is just that, a keeper.

Jenn McKinlay's website is www.jennmckinlay.com

The Christmas Keeper by Jenn McKinlay. Jove, 2019. ISBN 9780451492456 (paperback), 320p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"

I'm not talking about a book today. I haven't quite finished Jenn McKinlay's delightful romantic comedy, A Christmas Keeper, and it's not fair to her or the book to review it before finishing. It will be my last review before Thanksgiving.

Instead, I'm going to talk about something seasonal, kindness and forgiveness. I went to see Tom Hanks in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" the other day. If you're not familiar with it, it's not a biography of Fred Rogers. It's based on an Esquire article by journalist Tom Junod about the time he spent with Mr. Rogers. He was to profile him for an issue about heroes. What he found was a man who listened with his heart.

I'm not going to review the movie. I have friends who are planning to see it, and I'm not going to spoil it. Let me just say, the trailers don't tell everything, and they don't spoil the movie at all. But, there's a message there that is timely, not only for the season, but for the past years as well. It's a message of kindness, of listening with the heart, and of forgiveness. At one point, when the camera zeroed in on Hanks' face (on Mr. Rogers' face), it felt as if he could see into my heart.

I'm a little too old for Mr. Rogers. It started in 1968 when I was 11. And, I really only watched episodes here and there when I was babysitting. But, none of us are too old for the message of the movie, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood". It's not going to win an Oscar for Best Picture. And, I had to smile when a friend said her husband would have fallen asleep in the first five minutes. It's about Mr. Rogers, so it isn't action-packed. If you go see it, though, with an open heart and a pack of tissues, I don't think you'll be disappointed.




Monday, November 25, 2019

Interview with Diane Kelly

I always enjoy it when an author takes the time to answer a few questions. Today, my guest author is Diane Kelly, author of the Paw Enforcement series, as well as the Death and Taxes mysteries and the Home Flipper mysteries. I hope you enjoy "meeting" her. Thank you, Diane.


Diane, would you introduce yourself to readers?

I’m a former tax advisor who escaped the Internal Revenue Code and tax forms to do something much more fun – writing crime fiction! I became fascinated with white-collar crime while still working my day job. I accidentally worked for criminals a couple times. Yikes! Lest I end up behind bars myself, I figured self-employment was a good idea. 

Would you introduce us to Officer Megan Luz and her K-9 partner, Brigit?


Like most of us, Megan and Brigit are both typical American mutts. Megan has both Irish and Mexican roots, while Brigit is primarily shepherd with some who-knows-what tossed in. Both are skilled, clever, and doggedly determined to bring the bad guys to justice. Megan aspires to become a detective one day and, though she’s technically still a beat cop, is often drawn into investigations thanks to a couple of detectives from her station who realize how smart and hardworking she is. Brigit and Megan make a formidable team and, despite a rocky start, have become best friends.

Tell us about Paw of the Jungle, without spoilers.

I like to feature unusual crimes in my books, and this one is no exception. In this book, animals go missing from the city zoo. How the animals are removed with nobody noticing is a big mystery. I am personally very interested in animal welfare, and this book allowed me to explore the issue. When I first submitted the synopsis to my publisher, I’ll admit I had no idea how I was going to get the animals out of the zoo, especially the huge rhino. But I figured it would be fun to see how I would get myself out of the corner I’d backed myself into. Ha ha! I always have a secondary crime subplot and, in this book, it involves stolen jewelry.

This is the eighth book in the Paw Enforcement series. What interested you in writing about a K-9 team?

After writing my IRS Agent Tara Holloway series, I realized how fun it was to write not only a feisty, strong heroine, but to also give her some authority, training, and weapons. I decided a female police officer would star in my second series. I’ve always been a dog lover, so giving her a canine sidekick seemed natural. I have three dogs and they bring a lot of unintentional comedy to our lives, so I knew a K-9 would be a fun and funny character to put in a book. 

Tell us about your local citizens’ academy.

The classes stretched over three months and were so interesting and helpful. The instructors were members of law enforcement, and they taught us the ins and outs of police work, everything from traffic stops to crime scene techniques to K-9 handling. The night Officer Hatch brought his K-9 partner Rocket to class for a demonstration, I was absolutely fascinated. The dog didn’t obey immediately, truth be told. But once Rocket spun around and relieved himself of the “load” he was carrying, he performed an efficient building search, finding the hidden person in mere seconds. We students got a kick out of that. 

Two of your series are set in Texas. What do you love about that state?

Texas was home to me for most of my life. I grew up primarily in Austin, which is in central Texas, and then lived a large part of my adult life in the suburbs of Dallas-Fort Worth. The cities have distinct personalities that form a good backdrop for the stories. Dallas is sophisticated and upscale, while Fort Worth embraces both its western heritage and the arts. People in Texas are pretty friendly overall, but they’re not shy about putting their crazy on display, either.  My latest series, the House Flipper series, is set in Nashville, Tennessee, where I lived from 2014-2016. 

Now, a few personal questions. Tell us about your favorite books when you were a child.

I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, and so did my two older sisters. We lived in the Midwest when I was very young (before moving to Austin). My family took family vacations to visit several of Laura Ingalls’s homes, much to the dismay of my older brother, who got tired of going to “another one of that pioneer girl’s houses.” I also liked books where girls had a mission or adventure. I remember one called The Witch’s Buttons that was magical and fun. I also liked Strawberry Girl and Depend on Katie John. Like a lot of girls, I had a horse fetish, and I loved Misty of Chincoteague. The Harriet the Spy books were great, too. She was so bold and didn’t seem to care what people thought, a trait I admired in her. I also remember a really creepy book called Dorp Dead (the title was intentionally and ironically misspelled by the author). It’s about a boy who is essentially held hostage by a man who is very particular about the way things must be done. It was terrifying, but incredibly engaging. 

Neil Gaiman said, “Trust your obsession.” Did you ever have an obsession that you had to turn into a story? What was it?

After working twice for white-collar criminals, I became obsessed with figuring out why people do it. I was shocked the people I knew would risk their careers, reputations, and even families just for money. Was it greed? Power? Some type of sick thrill? I’m not sure I’ll ever know the real answer. I also have a bunch of minor obsessions that become small parts of my stories. I love cats and dogs, so naturally they play prominently into my stories. I also love muscle cars. My granny had a blue ’72 Nova that had a powerful engine and was a blast to drive. I’d always offer to run errands for her just so I could drive the car around. It’s no coincidence that Seth, the firefighter boyfriend in my Paw Enforcement series, drives that exact car. I love old Victorian houses, too, and that’s just the type of house I had my Tara Holloway character grow up in. I went through several food kicks that ended up as titles and elements in my Tara Holloway series. Death, Taxes, and a Skinny No-Whip Latte. Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria. Death, Taxes, and Green Tea Ice Cream. Death, Taxes, and Sweet Potato Fries.  

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

The first would be Janet Evanovich One for the Money. It’s hilarious, and the interplay between the characters is so much fun. For the same reason, I’d recommend Carl Hiaasen’s Tourist Season (or any of his funny mysteries, for that matter). Christopher Moore is incredibly creative, and his descriptions are often nothing short of masterpieces. In his book Fluke, he described the sound whales make as “an ambulance driving through pudding.” But his book Fool is the one I’d recommend if someone is only going to read one of them. Christie Craig’s Divorced, Desperate, and Delicious is an absolute hoot, and the first in her Divorced, Desperate series. Finally, I’d recommend Operation: Afterlife by Angela Cavener. She was a valuable critique partner and expert plotter, and she helped me immensely in developing my early works. I also love the humor of Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry.   

Diane, I’m a librarian. I usually end with this. Please tell us a story about you and a library or librarians.

Libraries are heaven on earth! My father was in the Air Force, so when I was young I not only had access to the school library and city library collections, but I could also borrow books from the library on base. Having easy access to three libraries and so many books made me feel like the luckiest kid in the world! As an adult, I want to make sure today’s children (and adults) have access to lots of great material, too, and I’ve been active with the Friends of the Library to help make that happen. 

Diane, thank you for answering questions, and for your active support of libraries!

Diane Kelly's website is www.dianekelly.com

Paw of the Jungle by Diane Kelly. St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2019. ISBN 9781250197375 (paperback), 368p.



Sunday, November 24, 2019

City of Immortals by Carolyn Campbell

Most people don't say they're ready to go to Paris because of a cemetery. I didn't feel as if I spent enough time at Montparnasse Cemetery when I was in Paris, so Carolyn Campbell's book made me ready to go back. She has a unique view of Pere-Lachaise Cemetery. In City of Immortals - Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, she and photographer Joe Cornish share the result of over thirty years of research about Paris' most famous cemetery.

According to Campbell, the 107-acre Pere-Lachaise Cemetery is the fourth most visited site in Paris, after the Arc de Triumphe, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower. Napoleon Bonaparte wanted a cemetery for the people, and in 1799 there was a competition to create new cemeteries outside the city center. The garden-style cemetery was the first of its kind in the world, although it became a model for others. The cemetery was named after the Pere Lachaise, confessor to the Sun King. It was laid out by architect, urban planner, and landscape designer Alexandre-Theodore Brongniart. However, there were few plots bought. The church was opposed to it because they would lose money,  and people weren't interested in plots away from the city. But, once remains of Moliere and Jean de La Fontaine, and the lovers Heloise and Abelard, were moved there, people started to buy plots. Now, it's a final resting place with modern plots and grand mausoleums, with 300 spaces coming available every year. Currently there are remains of 2 million people there.

Campbell has a background in the arts, so she's particularly interested in the creative people who are in Pere-Lachaise. She discusses the artists, musicians, and composers who are there, although she also mentions several of the other monuments. But, her focus is on the creative people. In one unusual section, she "has conversations" with some of the immortals there - Colette, Chopin, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf.

The photographs in this book are beautiful. But, Campbell's greatest contribution is the invaluable map of the cemetery with a list of locations of creative people buried in the cemetery. She breaks the cemetery into three parts, and describes some of the walking difficulty in getting to some of the sites. She goes into detail as to each site, provides background of the artist, and, when known, also provides information about the artist or architect who worked on the memorial.

There are 107 acres in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, so, of course, Campbell doesn't identify every site. It took her over thirty years to identify, write about, and photograph the 84 cultural icons covered in this book. She discusses the architecture, the art and symbolism of cemetery art. City of Immortals is a book rich in detail and history. It's just right for someone who loves cemeteries and the history and stories behind them.

City of Immortals - Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris by Carolyn Campbell, with Joe Cornish. Goff Books, 2019. ISBN 9781943532292 (paperback), 200p.

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

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Have You Heard? William Kent Krueger's This Tender Land

While I reviewed William Kent Krueger's This Tender Land back in September (http://bit.ly/2jZZJ4k), it's always nice to have a different take on a book. And, of course, Sandie Herron is reviewing the audiobook with Scott Brick as the narrator. That makes a difference as well. Thank you, Sandie.

THIS TENDER LAND                                                             

Written by William Kent Krueger
Narrated by Scott Brick
Unabridged Audiobook
Recorded Books (September 3, 2019)
Listening Length:  14 hours and 19 minutes

This Tender Land is a story of a different era, the Midwest during the Great Depression.  I chose to read this via audiobook since the main character was a story teller, something reiterated many times, so I wanted to listen as if he were telling me his story in his own voice. Scott Brick did a fabulous job reading, never distracting from the story yet adding emotions as appropriate.  While there are many characters, the narrator used just one voice, Odie’s, since this is his story.   

It is 1932 in rural Minnesota.  Author Kent Krueger gives us the story of four young orphans and their search for home.  All are connected to the Lincoln Indian Training School on the banks of the Gilead River.  Odie O’Banion and his older brother Albert were taken in when their widowed father died.  The only white boys in an Indian school, they befriend a young boy nicknamed Mose, a Sioux brought to the school with his tongue cut out, necessitating the use of sign language.  The fourth is their friend Emmy, the young daughter of Cora Frost, a favorite teacher living nearby,

The school is run by Thelma Brickman and her husband.  Thelma Brickman serves many roles at the school as teacher, superintendent, punisher, disciplinarian.  It is a daunting task teaching Indian children forced from their homes and families, stripped of their Indian-ness, and forbidden to speak their native language.  She does these not with kindness but with an iron fist.  Rules are to be obeyed, or punishment followed.  This often included a beating followed by time alone in the ”quiet” room.  Denial of meals was another, if you could call what they were served meals.

It was summer now, and school was out.  That didn’t mean the work stopped.  The children were always doing some sort of manual labor, upkeeping the school and property or working for nearby farmers as needed.  On a sweltering day Mrs. Frost requests that the three boys help in her garden and orchard.  She asks them if they would consider living with her this summer, for their labor, yes, but also for their companionship.  Thrilled at the prospect, they are crushed when a tornado thrashes through the school and changes their lives forever.

Crucial events follow, and the four children escape their tormentors and run away.  Taking a canoe and a few provisions, they embark on a journey full of wonder and sorrow, sadness and joy, terrors and triumphs.  They are forced to work for a bitter man who threatens to turn them in to the authorities.  Times are rough, and people everywhere are looking for food and shelter.  The four spend some time in a town made of discarded material you might find at the dump, a Hooverville known as Hopersville,     where young love blossoms.  Another leg of the journey takes them to a revival and the wisdom and healing powers of Sister Eve.  

Wherever the river takes them, the vagabonds find both hope and despair.  Their destination is Ithaca Street in St. Louis where Odie and Albert hope their aunt still resides.  Odie’s voice rings strong in the stories he continues to tell.  The four-some may have left horrors behind them, but they find home in their love for each other.  Forces threaten to split them apart, yet somehow they find their ways back to each other.  

It is a gift author Kent Krueger has given to us in his writing.  As I listened, I closed my eyes.  Listening to Odie’s voice in the narration of Scott Brick, I pictured everything from the so-called school all the way the end of the journey.  I very much enjoyed sitting down to each chapter in their odyssey.  So many places they visited, in body and in heart.  There were so many characters throughout.  I loved most of them, and the ones I didn’t, I had strong feelings against.  Many times on the journey I was surprised by what came next, and my jaw hung open.  Several times I cried.  Thinking of the vagabonds even now gives me chills.


I believe that this story is reachable, touchable, kind and cruel both, full of wonder and awe, and, mostly hope.


Friday, November 22, 2019

A Hodgepodge

I have several topics to cover today, so it's a hodgepodge.

First, here are the winners of the last contest on the blog, also the last contest until January. Mary F. from Towson, MD won the copy of Silent Night, Deadly Night. Judith C. from White Bluff, TN won Finding Christmas. The books are going out in the mail today.

I'm not sure when the books will be available, but I ordered two copies of Allen Eskens' Nothing More Dangerous to give away in a contest in the new year. They're backordered from The Poisoned Pen, so I'll run the contest whenever they arrive. I'm guessing the publisher didn't know I would tell everyone I knew how much I love the book, and they just didn't print enough. (grin - not really)

I could have posted one of Sandie Herron's Have You Heard? posts here today, but I didn't think it was fair to include it at the end of a hodgepodge post. So, instead, I'm going to provide you with a link. This is the Best Crime Fiction of 2019 from Library Journal. The three of us who put this together worked hard on the list, and I think it's a good one. Unfortunately, due to deadlines, books from the last couple months of the year weren't included. But, I know one book that will be on my personal favorites that was too late for this one. Maybe the list will provide you with some ideas for gifts for your crime fiction loving friend or family member. Enjoy!

http://bit.ly/2D3Sazc




Thursday, November 21, 2019

What Are You Reading?

I have a full day of meetings today, so I'll be catching up with you here and there. But, let's talk about what we're reading this week.

I've often said I learn more from fiction titles and mysteries than I learn from nonfiction books. Case in point, C.M. Gleason's January release, Murder at the Capitol. It's the third Lincoln's White House mystery. But, what's fascinating is the setting. It's set in July, 1861 in Washington, D.C. I never really thought of D.C. as a small town, filled with southerners. It was a town with only twenty-five constables. Then, tens of thousands of Union troops massed there, with nothing really to do before the first battles of the Civil War. This mystery has made me think of D.C. as it was, rather than as the city I know.

So, what are you reading this week? Before we get into the rush of holidays, I hope you've found some books to enjoy. Please tell us about them.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Have You Heard? Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews

When Sandie Herron sent the review of the audiobook Stork Raving Made by Donna Andrews, she commented, "Funny stuff!" I hope you enjoy the audio as well.


Stork Raving Mad

Meg Langslow Mystery, Book 12                                  

Written by Donna Andrews
Narrated by Bernadette Dunne
Unabridged Audiobook
Dreamscape Media, LLC (April 3, 2018) (first published 2010)
Listening Length:  7 hours and 52 minutes
Agatha Award Nominee for Best Novel (2010)Lefty Award Nominee (2011)

Meg Langslow is 8 ½ months pregnant with twins as this hilarious tale begins.  It’s winter and the heating system at Caerphilly College is out leaving the students to scramble for warm accommodations.  At least a dozen are camped out in Meg and Michael’s living room.  The rest of the Victorian mansion houses Meg’s brother Rob, her cousin Rose, and her grandfather Dr. Blake.  A group of programmers from Rob’s computer gaming business are testing a new game in the basement.  
         
The front doorbell keeps ringing.  Meg waddles to open it and discovers two professors from the college.  They are looking for a particular student in order to tell him that his dissertation must change from the drama featuring a new translation of a Spanish playwright’s work.  One says this is the “English” department, and one says the play is obscene.  Meg’s husband Michael is the head of the drama department and says this is outrageous.  All the approvals were received years ago; approval for which no one has any record.  An emergency meeting of the dissertation committee is called to be held then and there.  While the two disagreeable professors on site await the arrival of additional professors, they scatter to areas they can work and request tea.  Rose makes the tea amid a flurry of activity in the kitchen as the now elderly playwright who has come to town is making Spanish food.  Chaos ensues when he drops his bottle of prescription heart pills.  Dozens of students crawl on the floor to find them.

After the additional professors arrive, Meg goes to fetch the two on site, and finds the English professor dead in the library.  Chief Burke is called and quickly arrives at the scene.  When he asks Meg how many people were home, she counts up over 50!  As the Chief begins questioning them, Meg finally finds a quiet spot for a nap.  It doesn’t last long before activity swarms around her once again.

Donna Andrews has given us a glimpse into pregnancy while bringing us a bevy of disparate characters with more than one crisis on their hands.  It was nice to see Michael have a larger role as husband, father-to-be, and professor.  It was fun to see Meg and Michael changing roles into parents.  They added comedy at every turn calling the twins names of famous duos.  This slice of life intertwines with the mystery seamlessly while the myriad characters bring it all to life.   Kudos to Donna Andrews yet again for the twelfth Meg Langslow mystery!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Lost are the Last to Die by Larry D. Sweazy

I don't know if Larry D. Sweazy considers his Sonny Burton books to be westerns or crime novels. But, the description of frontier mystery fits these books perfectly. Sweazy returns to Sonny Burton with The Lost are the Last to Die.

Sonny Burton was a Texas Ranger until he lost his arm in a shoot-out with Bonnie and Clyde, an incident described in A Thousand Falling Crows. His career was over, and he really has nothing to do but spend time with his old dog. Then, in 1934, Billy Bunson escapes from Huntsville Prison with the warden's pregnant wife as a hostage. No one knows Billy better than Sonny, so the Rangers ask him to help in the capture. Even then, Sonny suspects there's more to the story of Billy's break-out than the Rangers or the warden are telling him.

Sonny and Billy have a long history together, going back twenty-five years to the time when Billy was just five. He was already a thief, desperate to eat, desperate to stay out of the grasp of his grandmother who ran a house of ill repute. When the 1909 hurricane hit in Texas, Billy's family packed up and left the child, expecting him to catch up. Sonny and Billy spent years running into each other, as Billy ran from the lawman, and Sonny tried to help the boy.

Now, it's too late for both of them. With Sonny's son, Jesse, another Texas Ranger, as back-up, they follow Billy's killing spree. It's a cat-and-mouse game, with both Billy and Sonny knowing one of them will end up dead after all these years.

There's a bleak atmosphere and sense of desperation in the books I've read by Sweazy. Readers who read the earlier book, and even start this one, will know the ending will be tragic. But, part of the bleakness comes from the juxtaposition of relationships. For years, Sonny tried to help Billy, always looking for the boy, while his son, Jesse, was at home. Jesse missed his father, and hated it every time his father left, knowing he was working, but wondering if he would ever return. Now, Jesse himself is a Texas Ranger, watching his father hunt one more time for a boy that always seemed to command Sonny's attention.

Dark, complex, atmospheric stories. Larry D. Sweazy excels at those frontier mysteries.

Larry D. Sweazy's website is www.larrydsweazy.com

The Lost are the Last to Die by Larry D. Sweazy. Five Star: Cengage. ISBN 9781432857233 (hardcover), 332p.

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


Monday, November 18, 2019

Lois Winston, Guest Author

Today, I'd like to welcome back Lois Winston, author of the Anastasia Pollack mysteries. It's been more years than either of us would like to admit (although Lois does) since she's done a post here. Lois' eighth book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series is now out, just in time for holiday season. But, I'm going to let her, and Anastasia, tell you about it. Thank you, Lois (and Anastasia).

Turnaround is Fair Play
By Lois Winston

Back in 2011 and 2012 when the first two books of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries were released, Lesa invited me to interview Anastasia, my reluctant amateur sleuth. In the years that have followed, Anastasia has starred in six additional novels and three novellas. So I thought it only fair with this return visit to allow Anastasia to interview me.

Anastasia: I suppose the question uppermost in my mind is why do you keep picking on me?

Lois: Because I love you?

Anastasia: You have a funny way of showing it. Who puts loved ones in mortal danger book after book after book?

Lois: Well, that’s just it. I hate to break it to you, but you’re not real. You’re a character in a book, a figment of my imagination. No permanent harm will ever come to you as long as I keep writing about you.

Anastasia: Hmm…I never thought of it in that way. Still, it would have been nice to have been written as a heroine in one of your romances.

Lois: Some of those heroines have faced down bad actors and lived to tell about it.

Anastasia: Only in your romantic suspense books. I’m talking about the romantic comedies. Nothing bad ever happens to those protagonists.

Lois: They’ve had their share of emotional hurt. Maybe we should move on?

Anastasia: Fine. I suppose after all these years Lesa has new readers who don’t know who we are. Maybe you should tell them a little bit about my eponymous series.

Lois: Excellent idea. The Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries begin with your husband permanently cashing in his chips in Las Vegas. Only then do you learn of his gambling addiction and that he’s left you in debt equal to the GNP of Uzbekistan.

Anastasia: By the way, my sons and I thank you for that—not! We also could have done without the Mafia loan shark and Lucille, the communist mother-in-law from Hades. But that wasn’t enough. You then began dumping dead bodies at my feet, forcing me to become a reluctant amateur sleuth.

Lois: Hey, it’s a mystery series, remember?

Anastasia: How could I forget? All of a sudden you have me juggling a career as a crafts editor at a women’s magazine while playing Jessica Fletcher. And what about that mother-in-law? Word has it, you were exorcising some of your own demons when you created her. Is it true your mother-in-law was a commie?

Lois: Yes, Lucille is very much patterned after my own mother-in-law.

Anastasia: Sadist! But that wasn’t bad enough. You had to make my mother think she descends from Russian nobility, and you force her to share a room in your house with the commie. You couldn’t write one more bedroom into the book?

Lois: Wouldn’t be as much fun.

Anastasia: For whom?

Lois: Our readers. But I did give you Ralph, the Shakespeare-quoting parrot.

Anastasia: I’ll admit, Ralph does provide quite a bit of comic relief. 

Lois: And what about Zack? Didn’t I create a hunky new love interest for you? 

Anastasia: Except I think he’s a spy. Come clean. Is he?

Lois: You know I can’t answer that.

Anastasia: You’re as bad as he is. I can’t get a straight answer out of either of you. And then there’s Ira. On top of all my problems you had to introduce an emotionally needy half-brother-in-law and his three obnoxious kids to the mix?

Lois: I did. And speaking of Ira, maybe this is a good time to tell everyone about the newest book in the series.

Anastasia: Excellent idea. Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide is the eighth book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. Here’s the back cover blurb:

Two and a half weeks ago magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack arrived home to find Ira Pollack, her half-brother-in-law, had blinged out her home with enough Christmas lights to rival Rockefeller Center. Now he’s crammed her small yard with enormous cavorting inflatable characters. She and photojournalist boyfriend and possible spy Zack Barnes pack up the unwanted lawn decorations to return to Ira. They arrive to find his yard the scene of an over-the-top Christmas extravaganza. His neighbors are not happy with the animatronics, laser light show, and blaring music creating traffic jams on their normally quiet street. One of them expresses his displeasure with his fists before running off.

In the excitement, the deflated lawn ornaments are never returned to Ira. The next morning Anastasia once again heads to his house before work to drop them off. When she arrives, she discovers Ira’s attacker dead in Santa’s sleigh. Ira becomes the prime suspect in the man’s murder and begs Anastasia to help clear his name. But Anastasia has promised her sons she’ll keep her nose out of police business. What’s a reluctant amateur sleuth to do?


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Bio:
USA Todaybestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

Website: www.loiswinston.com 
Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

From Sea to Stormy Sea edited by Lawrence Block

I'd love to see all of the paintings that inspired From Sea to Stormy Sea: 17 Stories Inspired by Great American Paintings". Because I read an ARC, an Advanced Reader's Copy, the paintings were in black and white. I did look up some of them, but the finished copy of the book will undoubtedly be striking.

Several years ago, Lawrence Block had an idea for an anthology, In Sunlight or in Shadow, "Stories Inspired by Edward Hopper's Paintings". In the next collection, Alive in Shape and Color, he invited authors to choose a painting by a favorite artist, and write a story influenced by that work.This time, Block offered authors thirty paintings to choose from. Sixteen authors, plus Block, wrote stories for this collection. Readers will find diverse pieces from authors such as Tom Franklin, Jane Hamilton, Gary Phillips, and John Sandford.

As in any anthology, some pieces stand out more than others. And, tastes differ, so my preferences may not be yours. Sara Paretsky's "Baptism in Kansas" has a powerful ending. I liked John Sandford's "Girl with an Ax". Inspired by "Hollywood" by Thomas Hart Benton, this one is not a violent crime story. Brendan DuBois picked Winslow Homer's "Diamond Shoal" for his story "Adrift Off the Diamond Shoals", an account of the opportunity for revenge during a hurricane. Patti Abbott, Charles Ardai, and Jan Burke wrote intriguing stories.

Actually, From Sea to Stormy Sea is one of the strongest anthologies I've read in the last couple years. The addition of the colored artwork will make this one a keeper.

From Sea to Stormy Sea: 17 Stories Inspired by Great American Paintings, edited by Lawrence Block. Pegasus Books, 2019. ISBN 9781643130828 (hardcover), 272p.

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




Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

If you're a fan of contemporary romantic comedies or Susan Elizabeth Phillips' books involving sports teams, you might want to try The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. What happens when a professional baseball player wants to save his marriage and his buddies step in, thinking a book club might help? It's a sexy, fun romance.

Nashville Legends' second baseman Gavin Scott had the best game of his career, and the worst night of his life on the same day. He hit a grand slam to win a playoff game. He thought he hit a grand slam in bed with his wife, Thea, that night, until he realized she'd been faking orgasms for three years. A couple weeks later, friends find him passed out drunk in his rented apartment. Although they don't tell him at first, the men have all been through troubles in their relationships or marriages. And, they now have a book club to provide them with advice. Courting the Countess, a Regency romance, is their book of choice for Gavin.

Gavin regrets his decision to move out. He left Thea at home with their twin daughters and her sister, Liv. As Liv says, she's programmed to take Thea's side in the argument. Liv and Thea grew up with parents who hated each other. Their father is about to marry his fourth wife. The happiest years of their lives were spent living with their Gran Gran. When Thea discovered she was pregnat with the girls, she gave up college and her art career to marry Gavin. In some ways, they were lucky. He was immediately called up to the majors. But, Thea hates being a member of the Legends WAGs club, Wives and Girlfriends. She didn't marry Gavin to give up her identity.

The men who help Gavin add the humorous spark to The Bromance Book Club. They're serious about helping him rescue his marriage, but they pick on him unmercifully. However, this isn't a light romance about an unmarried couple finding love. There are serious subjects here; spouses and parents who have a great deal to lose, including the partner they love. Thea and Gavin both have serious issues in their past. If they are to move on, they're going to have to find the strength to search for the troubles in their past lives.

You might pick up The Bromance Book Club because of the humor. There's a group of men trying to fix a marriage by using romance novels as rule books? The men are baseball players, a hockey player, a football player, a player, men readers don't expect to read romances. But, once readers meet Gavin and Thea, it's easy to become invested in their relationship. This contemporary romance offers humor and hope, sex, and a message of love. Romance readers might want to give it a try.

Lyssa Kay Adams' website is http://www.lyssakayadams.com/

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. Jove, 2019. ISBN 9781984806093 (paperback), 339p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


Friday, November 15, 2019

Winner and Christmas Giveaway

Congratulations to the winner of Catriona McPherson's giveaway. Marla B. from Las Vegas, NV won the books. Thanks for playing, everyone!

Here's my last contest of 2019. I always finish before Thanksgiving so I don't have to go to the post office during the holiday season when everyone is there. If you only stop by for the contests, I hope you enter this one, and come back again on Friday, January 3.

Since this is the last contest before the holidays, I'm giving away two Christmas books. One is a mystery, and one is a Hallmark-style romance. Vicki Delany's
Silent Night, Deadly Night is a Year-Round Christmas Mystery. It's the week before Thanksgiving, and Merry Wilkinson, owner of Mrs. Claus's Treasures, is ready for a weekend reunion of her mother's college friends. But, the women show up, arguing amongst themselves. That bickering continues even after one is poisoned. Merry wants to wrap up the mystery, save her father's job as Santa as well as her favorite holiday.




Karen Schaler's Finding Christmas is about a woman who plans the perfect pre-Christmas scavenger hunt for her busy boyfriend. However, when an author shows up instead, she wonders if she's picked the right man.









Which Christmas book do you want to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read either "Win Silent Night" or "Win Finding Christmas." Please include your name and mailing address. The contest will end Thursday, November 21 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

What Are You Reading?

We're back on schedule this week. So, what have you been reading?  

I finished The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. It's a fun, sexy romance with serious overtones. I've reviewed it for Saturday, so I won't say too much. A pro baseball player wants to save his marriage. His buddies step in to help, using romance novels as guide books. It's popular at my library, and Amazon picked it as the top romance of the year. I enjoy romances with a little twist.

What have you been reading this week? Do you have some books you want to tell us about?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Murder, She Wrote: A Time for Murder by Jessica Fletcher & Jon Land

Murder, She Wrote: A Time for Murder by "Jessica Fletcher" and Jon Land is the fiftieth book in the popular series, and the first one I've read. Although it was entertaining, the climax was so over-the-top and implausible, along with other implausible elements, that I found myself questioning the story. It's another series that is meant for long-time fans, rather than for me.

It's been twenty-five years since Jessica Fletcher solved her first murder mystery. When a reporter asks for an interview for a high school newspaper, Jessica agrees. She's always eager to help budding journalists and writers. This young woman seems to be focused on Jessica's first murder, though, a case Fletcher doesn't talk about. She was a young substitute English teacher at the high school in a near-by town when the principal was murdered. Because she heard him arguing on the phone, Jessica was able to help the police detective, Amos Tupper, narrow the timeframe, and find a liar and killer. But, in Jessica's mind, that case was before her husband died, and before she started writing. She doesn't want to discuss it.

Circumstances force her to reveal the past to Sheriff Mort Metzger. A retirement party for a teacher from that high school brings a killer out into the open. Jessica and the sheriff are connecting several violent deaths to that first murder twenty-five years earlier. It's time for Jessica to dig into her own past for memories and clues.

As I said, there are too many implausible elements for me. Why would the sheriff, a veteran of twenty-five years at the NYPD, depend on Jessica and allow her to participate and take the lead in interviews? Okay, I can accept it's a cozy mystery, and the amateur sleuth will always take the lead. However, the climatic events are just too outlandish for me to believe.

Saying all that, Jessica Fletcher is a model for amateur sleuths, determined to find justice while asking the question, "Who speaks for the dead?" Fans of the series will appreciate the return of a retired Amos Tupper. It's a nostalgic return to Jessica Fletcher's past for the fiftieth book in the successful series.

Murder, She Wrote: A Time for Murder by Jessica Fletcher & Jon Land. Berkley Prime Crime, 2019. ISBN 9781984804303 (hardcover), 304p.

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