Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Careless Whiskers by Miranda James

Miranda James marks the twelfth book in the Cat in the Stacks series, Careless Whiskers, by bringing in all the beloved characters, including the Ducote sisters, while staging an entire play. A librarian, cats, theater, some humor, and a murder. What more could a cozy mystery reader want?

When Laura Harris, librarian Charlie Harris' daughter, throws a tantrum, she scares Diesel, his Maine Coon cat. Charlie realizes she has a reason to be upset. The star who was to be her leading man in Athena College's spring production of Careless Whispers, had to pull out for medical reasons. Now, she has to appear with a man she detests, Luke Lombardi. He might be a Tony-nominated actor, but he's not a good person. Charlie assures her that her husband, Frank, who is the director, will be able to handle Lombardi.

Once he sees Lombardi and his entourage at the welcome reception, Charlie is afraid only the Ducote sisters have the clout to handle the arrogant actor. And, as he attends each rehearsal, Charlie watches Laura and Lombardi spar. Then, someone starts to pull pranks on the actor. Charlie knows Laura wouldn't try to ruin the play, but someone wants to put Lombardi off his game. And, Laura could top the list of suspects when Lombardi dies on stage.

Although Charlie promised his children and Chief Deputy Kanesha Berry that he wouldn't stick his nose in, he worries about Laura, and his curiosity gets the better of him. In fact, that curiosity leads to one of the funniest scenes I've read in any of these books as Charlie tries to hide from the police.

Careless Whiskers, despite the murder and a few obnoxious characters, is the kind of mystery story that stands for cozy. There's all kinds of talk about food. There are playful cats and a dog. Charlie's family and family love has grown in the course of the series. And, Charlie himself has a woman he loves. As I said, what more could a cozy mystery reader want?

Miranda James' website is www.catinthestacks.com

Careless Whiskers by Miranda James. Berkley Prime Crime, 2020. ISBN 9780451491152 (hardcover), 304p.

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

Monday, January 20, 2020

Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart by Sarah MacLean

Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart rounds out Sarah MacLean's Love By Numbers historical romance series. She finishes off the story of the St. John family with Juliana's story. Again, MacLean focuses on a woman who is unexpected in historical romances. Juliana refers to herself as a scandal.

Juliana Fiori is the half-sister of Gabriel St. John, Marques of Ralston and Nicholas St. John. Neither of the men realized they had a sister. Their mother left them when they were ten. She moved to Italy, and married a merchant. Their mother also left Juliana when she was a child. It was only when her father died, leaving Juliana's brothers as her guardians, that any of them realized they had siblings. Although, she's grown to love her brothers in the short time she's known them, she knows she's not at all acceptable to the ton.

Juliana is the Italian Catholic daughter of a fallen marchioness who continues to stir up scandal when she reappears in the midst of a dinner party intended to introduce Juliana to eligible bachelors. However, Juliana has eyes for one she can't have, Simon Pearson, Duke of Leighton. If there's anyone who represents the ton, with all its proper British rules and traditions, it's Leighton. And, he flirted with Juliana several times until he realized who she was. But, he can't have a breath of scandal touch the family now that his pregnant teenage sister is hidden away at Minerva House in Yorkshire.

But, Juliana won't go down without a fight. She challenges Leighton, saying she can prove how important passion is in life, if only he'll give her two weeks. She just doesn't know the short timespan he has. By the time his sister's situation becomes public, he wants to be at least betrothed, if not married, to a proper British bride with an impeccable background. He can't continue to yearn for a woman who is "too bold, too brash". She's the opposite of good English girls. She says whatever is on her mind, with no consideration of what people might think. And, the Duke of Leighton was raised to think of nothing but honor and duty.

MacLean continues to turn expectations upside down as her characters find love, instead of meeting society's expectations. Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart is a fun, romantic culmination to the Love By Numbers series. The St. Johns are a growing family, coming together to protect their own while defying the ton with love matches and romance.

Sarah MacLean's website is www.sarahmaclean.net

Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart by Sarah MacLean. HarperCollins, 2011. 384p.

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

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Westering Women by Sandra Dallas

There's a 1951 film, Westward the Women, that's one of my all-time favorites. It's the story of a wagon train of mail-order brides. Robert Taylor stars as the trail guide taking a group of women from Chicago to California. I'm not saying Sandra Dallas' Westering Women is derivative because most of the women in the book are quite different. But, Westering Women is the story of a group of women who sign on with a couple ministers to travel from Chicago to California across the Overland Trail in 1852, as intended brides for gold miners. And, one of my favorite characters in the book, a large woman named Mary Madrid, reminds me of Hope Emerson's Patience Hawley in the movie.

Maggie is a dressmaker in Chicago, the mother of a young daughter, and a woman with secrets. She knows she'll be lying if she signs on with the two ministers asking for eligible women to travel 2,000 miles to Goosetown in California, gold-mining country, where "hundreds of God-fearing men are seeking wives". But, she watches as a fancy woman signs on, and Caroline Swain, wife of one of the minister's, doesn't blink an eye although she knows who she is. And, when Mary Madrid, a large farm woman, encourages Maggie to go, she's eager to escape Chicago and her past.

The women's train gathers in St. Joseph, Missouri, where they'll set out on a months-long difficult trip. At the beginning of the trip, they're accompanied by a number of men who drive the oxen teams, and guard the travelers. But, as the trip gets more difficult, the women come into their own. Mary is capable of doing anything the men do, and she brings her own horse. But, she can drive the oxen teams, and teaches other women to do it. The women cook over fires, learn to shoot to defend themselves. From a group of individuals from every class, who are all running from something, as one of the ministers says, they become a band of sisters. They lose other women who turn back. Some die on the way, and there are tragedies that affect everyone. But, when several women are accosted after meeting up with their past along the way, their sisters stand up for them.

These women face cholera, Indian attacks, other violence. Death and birth, and more deaths occur on the trip. It's a trip that brings tears at time, but it's a triumph when a strong group of united women face a final welcome.

As I said, tears and triumph, and a group of sisters. Westering Women is a fascinating historical novel. It will be difficult to forget several of these strong, determined women.

If you haven't read Sandra Dallas' books before, I'll recommend this one. Because I've read most of her books, I'll also suggest two of my favorites. Check out an early one, The Persian Pickle Club. We all know I'm fond of coming-of-age stories so Tallgrass is one of my favorites. Westering Women will joins that small group.

Westering Women by Sandra Dallas. St. Martin's Press, 2020. ISBN 9781250239662 (hardcover), 327p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord by Sarah MacLean

While reviewing the second book in Sarah MacLean's Love By Numbers series, Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord, I'm also finishing the third in the trilogy. I love the overlap of characters, and the changes in relationships and characters in the course of the series. And, each book presents moments of humor.

When the women's magazine Pearls and Pelisses contains an article with "Lessons in Landing a Lord", Lord Nicholas St. John isn't happy that he's first on their list of "eminently laudable lords". He finds himself having to hide from women who are hunting him down all over London. So, when the Duke of Leighton asks him to hunt for his missing seventeen-year-old sister, Nick eagerly accepts the opportunity to escape north, along with Rock, his companion on so many adventures and hunting trips in the Mideast and Orient. But, they've never seen what they discover at Townsend Park in Yorkshire.

Lady Isabel Townsend has been holding everything together by a shoestring while her father, known as the Wastreal, hasn't been seen on his estate in years. Instead, he spends his time in London, gambling away his money, his property, and sometimes, even his daughter. Lady Isabel has faced down seven suitors who have shown up to claim her, saying they won her in wagers. Her butler, footman, and stable master all back her with weapons, but no one knows they are actually women. Lady Isabel is actually running the house, Minerva House, as a refuge for women fleeing abusive marriages or relationships. And, Georgiana, sister of the Duke of Leighton, fled to Minerva House after she learned she was pregnant.

Lady Isabel is also holding it all together for her ten-year-old brother, who is suddenly the Earl of Reddick when her father dies. That's when she realizes she'll have to sell her personal collection of marbles, statues, in order to keep the estate and Minerva House going. She writes for help, and is surprised when Lord Nicholas St. John, an antiquarian and expert in evaluating marbles, shows up so quickly. He and Rock don't tell Lady Isabel why they're in Yorkshire. And, both men find themselves "landed", falling in love with women on the estate. But, how does Nick tell Isabel that he was really there to hunt down Georgiana?

Characters. Sarah MacLean writes about some of the most interesting characters I've come across lately. Nick, twin brother of Gabriel St. John, the rake from book one, is totally different from his brother. He's the kinder, gentler of the two, and it's obvious with his treatment of all the women at Minerva House. Isabel is a protector, who shoulders all of the responsibilities of the estate and the house, learning to fix the roof, dealing with bills, handling it all. And, she's reluctant to share any of her burden with anyone, even Nick.

There's humor in the book, as Gabriel and Rock pick on Nick for his fame with the women. Even Isabel is teased by her women at the house, women who have read Pearls and Pelisses, and hope she can land a lord. There's steamy sex, and there's growing love between several pairs of characters.

As I said, I'm currently reading the third in the trilogy, featuring Nick's half-sister. But, Nick and Isabel have roles in that book, as does Gabriel St. John. MacLean's characters, their loves, and their changing lives, are fascinating. Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord may have a stereotypical title, but there's nothing stereotypical about Sarah MacLean's historical romances.

Sarah MacLean's website is http://www.sarahmaclean.net

Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord by Sarah MacLean. HarperCollins (Avon), 2010. 401p. (Kindle edition)

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought the ebook.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Winners and a Favorite Giveaway

Well! The contest for three copies of Paige Shelton's Thin Ice was a smashing success. I had the largest number of entries for one title that I've ever had. And, Paige is giving away one additional copy. If you didn't win, don't feel bad. I hope you continue to enter contests. Usually, there aren't near as many entries. And, you might want to think about buying Paige's book, or picking it up at your local public library. Keep her writing the series!

Congratulations to the winners. Copies are going to Michelle R. from West Babylon, NY, Susan B. from Snohomish, WA, Marilynne S. of Portland, OR, and Shawna H. from Lewisburg, TN. The books will go out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away two hardcover copies of my favorite book of 2019, Allen Eskens' Nothing More Dangerous. It's a standalone, so you don't have to have read any of his previous works. I hadn't when I read it. But, it might just lead you to his other books. Eskens told me he became a writer to tell this story, but he wrote five other books first.

Nothing More Dangerous is a story of suspense and murder. It's a powerful coming-of-age book, the story of a teen in the Ozarks who witnesses racism and violence. He's bullied, and learns quite a lot about himself in the process. It's about friendship and classism. There have been so many excellent reviews of this book. In November, I said it topped my list of books read so far. That never changed. http://bit.ly/2tqBtNd

Nothing More Dangerous was my favorite book of 2019. Interested? To enter, email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read "Win Nothing More Dangerous." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, Jan. 23 at 5 PM CT.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

What Are You Reading? and Glen Davis' Favorite Books of 2019

Unless the schedule is pushed off for some reason, we always talk about what we're reading on Thursdays. This Thursday is no exception. However, we'll also round out the lists of favorite books with Glen Davis' selections. I always enjoy Glen's succinct, wry comments about the books he's read. His list is no exception. So, he's going to tell us what books he enjoyed the most in 2019, and then we can talk about what we're reading. I hope you enjoy Glen's comments as much as I do. Thank you, Glen.

This year, I read as many book as usual, but I felt like it was a down year.

Several of my favorite authors didn't publish a book this year. I'm looking at you, Barry Lancet!

The thrillers weren't thrilling, the chillers weren't chilling, the cookbooks weren't filling.

The only genre that really pushed things forward was the Men's Adventure genre. Moribund only a few years ago, it's made a real comeback thanks to the e-book revolution.

Best Cozy:

Antiques Ravin' by Barbara Collins:

Latest book in the almost over the top Trash 'N' Treasures series, has the Bourne girls going to a Poe festival, where there's antiques, intrigues, and of course, Murder!

Honorable mention: Death of a Gigolo by Laura Levine:

Similarly almost but not quite over the top, just the way I like my cozies. 

Best PI Novel:

The Devil's Music by Stephen Mertz:

Kilroy is a detective operating in 1970's Denver. He helps a blues singer find out who is trying to kill him, so that he can make a comeback. Lots of fighting, shooting, and skateboarding!

Honorable Mention: False Gods by W. Glenn Duncan Jr. The son of the original author revives the revered and much too short Rafferty series. This one deals with a cult.

Best Police Procedural:

That Old Scoundrel Death by Bill Crider:

The final Dan Rhodes novel, finds a man shot in an abandoned school house, and Dan has to solve the murder despite all the distractions that keep getting in his way.

Honorable Mention:

The Line by Martin Limon; Sort of NCIS: Korea, when a South Korean soldier is murdered in the demilitarized zone.

Best Hitman Novel:

Killing Quarry by Max Allan Collins:

Quarry finds himself on the wrong side of a hit.

Honorable Mention:  

A Talent for Killing by Ralph Dennis; A former CIA agent loses his memory and becomes a hitman, killing people while the CIA is thinking about killing him.

Best Espionage Novel:

Blowback by Brad Thor:  

Somebody kidnaps Scott Harvath and takes him to Russia. He has to escape and make his way through thousands of miles to get to friendly border.

Honorable Mention:

Mission Critical by Mark Greaney: The Gray Man is on a plane. When terrorists try to take the plane, The Gray Man goes after them, despite the best efforts of the suits.

Best Psychological Thriller Novel:

The Return by Rachel Harrison: 

A group of friends have a girls' weekend after one of their number returns after being missing for two year. She is not the same person who disappeared. 

Best True Crime:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann: 

One of the most chilling books I've read in this genre. So many of the murders have never been solved.


The Madness of Frankenstein by Derrick Ferguson:  

A Hammer Frankenstein film in prose, like an adaptation of a screenplay that never saw the screen.

Martial Arts Thriller: 

Sumotori by GP Hutchinson: 

The World Champion of Sumo finds himself framed for a crime he didn't commit when he refuses to go along with the Yakuza.


Legends of the Condor Heroes Book One: A Hero Born by Jin Yong: 

The first book in a long series of novel about the Martial World. First time translated into English!


The Lu Family Saga by Kim S. Luke: 

Read several biographies about the immigrant experience from Asia. This is the best I read this year.

Pop Culture:

Monster Mash by Mark Voger: 

This book investigates the "monster boom" that lasted from the 1950's to the 1970's. I just missed it, but always loved the classic monsters.

Honorable Mention:

Hero-A-Go-Go by Mark Eury: Examines the confluence of comic books and the camp movement spawned by the 1960's TV series Batman. 

And Finally----

Men's Adventure:

Hunt Them Down by Simon Gervais:  

Ranger turned DEA agent Pierce Hunt is on the track of his daughter, who was kidnapped by a criminal outfit. Unfortunately, his girlfriend is the daughter of the leader.

Honorable Mention:

High Risk by JT Sawyer: Mitch Kearny has to break an arms dealer out of a prison in Belarus. Easier said than done, and nobody said it would be easy!

Out of approximately 500 books, these are the ones that made the list. I hope next year, I have a harder time picking out the best.

Glen, I'm glad you took the time to pick these from those 500 books! Thank you.

So, everyone. Four lists of our favorites. They couldn't be any more different, although there were a few titles that overlapped. I hope you found one or two on the lists that you're interested in reading. I appreciate all the work that Jeff, Margie and Glen put into their lists. Thank you.

So, now it's time for you to talk about Glen's list, or just move on to talk about what you're reading. It's Thursday. You have the floor!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Belated Anniversary

Better late than never. On January 6, 2005, I posted my first blog post on the site that would eventually become Lesa's Book Critiques. Fifteen years ago, it was originally called "Nikki's World" after our kitten who had been dumped at the Central Library in Glendale, and rescued by our library director, Rodeane Widom. Even then, the blog was intended as a place to talk about books. I wanted to share that discussion, even if it was only my family who read the blog. They still read it, but seldom comment.

I have three people to thank for Lesa's Book Critiques. Rodeane Widom sent me to a three day workshop put on by the Arizona State Library. Since then, I've told her the only thing I learned from the workshop was how to blog. Maddee James, owner and web designer at xuni.com, was helpful with formatting from the very beginning. (And, if you're an author looking for a web designer, check out xuni.com.) Maddee was also available for advice, including the suggestion that it was eventually time to change the name to reflect me and books instead of a cat. (Ahem. Amazing how many porn sites were connected to the name Nikki fifteen years ago.) And, of course, my late husband, Jim, who encouraged me to write about all the books I read.

The first book I discussed on the blog site was Helene Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road, a love letter to books. Fifteen years later, I hope this blog remains a love letter to books.

I want to thank everyone who has read and commented on the blog over the years. Thank you for reading with me, talking about books, and entering contests. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me when Jim died ten years ago. I hope we're all here in five years as we continue to talk about books we loved or books that weren't quite as special. Thank you for being part of this conversation and my life.

Here's to books! (And, here's to Nikki, who helped to start it all.)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Lefty Award Nominees

On Monday, January 13, Janet Rudolph's Mystery Fanfare announced the Lefty Award Nominations for 2020. Congratulations to all of the nominees.

Here are the nominations, as announced.


Left Coast Crime 2020, “Murder’s a Beach,” will be presenting four Lefty Awards at the 30th annual LCC convention, to be held in San Diego in March: humorous, historical, debut, and best. The awards will be voted on at the convention and presented at a banquet on Saturday, March 14, at the Marriot Mission Valley in San Diego. The award nominees have been selected by this and last years’ convention registrants.LCC is delighted to announce the 2020 Lefty nominees for books published in 2019. Congratulations to all!

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel:
Fatal Cajun Festival, by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane)
Murder from Scratch, by Leslie Karst (Crooked Lane)
The Subject of Malice, by Cynthia Kuhn (Henery Press)
Scot & Soda, by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
Drowned Under, by Wendall Thomas (Poisoned Pen Press)

Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel (for books set before 1970):
Murder Knocks Twice, by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur)
The Pearl Dagger, by L.A. Chandlar (Kensington)
A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder, by Dianne Freeman (Kensington)
The Body in Griffith Park, by Jennifer Kincheloe (Seventh Street)
The Satapur Moonstone, by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime)

Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel:
The Ninja Daughter, by Tori Eldridge (Agora)
Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton)
One Night Gone, by Tara Laskowski (Graydon House)
Three-Fifths, by John Vercher (Agora)
Murderabilia, by Carl Vonderau (Midnight Ink)

Lefty for Best Mystery Novel (not in other categories):
Your House Will Pay, by Steph Cha (Ecco)
Borrowed Time, by Tracy Clark (Kensington)
Lost Tomorrows, by Matt Coyle (Oceanview)
They All Fall Down, by Rachel Howzell Hall (Forge)
Heaven, My Home, by Attica Locke (Mulholland)

The Left Coast Crime Convention is an annual event sponsored by mystery fans, both readers and authors. Held in the western half of North America, LCC’s intent is to host an event where readers, authors, critics, librarians, publishers, and other fans can gather in convivial surroundings to pursue their mutual interests. Lefty Awards have been given since 1996.The 30th annual Left Coast Crime Convention will take place in San Diego, California, March 12–15, 2020. This year’s Guests of Honor are authors Rachel Howzell Hall and T. Jefferson Parker. Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore is the Fan Guest of Honor, and author Matt Coyle will serve as Toastmaster.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Dead in Dublin by Catie Murphy

Well, I found a new cozy mystery series to love. Dead in Dublin may be a debut mystery, but Catie Murphy has written science fiction/fantasy as C.E. Murphy, so it's quite polished. It doesn't hurt that it's set in Dublin with actual buildings and monuments. Murphy's debut did send me down a rabbit hole as I looked at pictures of Dublin and listened to several versions of "Molly Malone".

Megan Malone's client dies at the feet of the statue of Molly Malone. Megan is an American transplant who drives tourists around for Leprechaun Limo Service. The former army medic enjoys chatting with people, asking them about their stories, so the job is perfect for her.  Elizabeth Darr, a renowned restaurant critic and food blogger has been a regular client for three months as she and her husband, Dr. Simon Darr, explore restaurants and Ireland. But, when Liz dies after eating dinner at Canan's, owned by Megan's friend Fiann Canan, the detective garda Paul Bourke asks Megan if her friend regularly poisons guests.

Fiann knows she's ruined if it turns out Liz died of food poisoning. In Ireland, the chef is responsible, and that's Fiann. But, Megan knows Simon, Liz's husband, and she's willing to help him get through the next couple days, helping with Liz's website, picking up her parents at the airport. And, of course, Megan will do what she does best. She'll ask questions, and she'll listen. Megan and Simon are both shocked, though, when they suddenly hear Liz' voice. It seems she had a blog ready to go live. And, in the background, she's softly singing "Molly Malone".

Megan has been in Dublin for three years, and she has quite a few friends, and even family members to call on for help. Megan is a loyal friend, and she won't let Fiann or Liz' parents down as she looks for the person who killed the restaurant critic. She's not even willing to disappoint a mother Jack Russell terrier and her two newborn pups. Megan Malone is a sucker for needy people.

Dead in Dublin is a polished, enjoyable debut. And, it's wonderful to read about a mature, forty-year-old amateur sleuth with life experience. However, three-quarters of the way into the book, Megan disappointed me. She took some actions, pushing her own investigation, that could have been dangerous for anyone, let alone an amateur sleuth. The world Megan Malone was investigating could be dangerous. It was risky just asking questions because she could have asked the wrong people.

It struck me after I finished that there were actually a few loose ends that weren't tied up. Believe it or not, one has to do with the song, "Molly Malone". However, that's a minor point. And, I was very pleased that she has a pronunciation guide to some of the Irish names at the front of the book.

Murphy already has the next two books in the series written, and I can't wait. I love Ireland, and this book, despite the murders, makes me ready to go back. It doesn't hurt that I looked at pictures. Murphy takes readers to sites from the book on her site, mizkit.com/DublinDriverPhotography. Start with the statue of Molly Malone, and you'll feel ready to read this mystery. And, you really should listen to a version or two of the song "Molly Malone".

Catie Murphy's website is www.mizkit.com

Dead in Dublin by Catie Murphy. Kensington Books, 2020. ISBN 9781496724182 (paperback), 292p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book (but I bought a copy after finishing it - I mean - Dublin!)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Kiss Me in Paris by Catherine Rider

I was walking by the stacks in the library the other day, and Catherine Rider's young adult novel, Kiss Me in Paris was on display. Naturally, I'm at least going to check out a book set in Paris. Yesterday, I reviewed Love Lettering, and picked it up because it was a love letter to New York City. This one really is about a whirlwind tour of Paris, so I was hooked. I wasn't disappointed.

Serena Fuentes has twenty-four hours in Paris to photograph all the important sites her parents saw on their honeymoon twenty-five years ago. The college student lost her father two years earlier, and wants to present a scrapbook of memories to her mother for their New Year's anniversary. But, Serena's itinerary doesn't go right from the very beginning, and Paris doesn't even seem to want to cooperate. It's gray and foggy when she lands, and exhausted after a red-eye flight, she makes her way to her sister's. But, Lara has been ignoring Serena's texts. She has plans to go to Madrid with her boyfriend, and says Serena can't stay there. Instead, Lara's boyfriend hooks her up with a friend, Jean-Luc, and says she can stay in an empty room in his dorm. Serena's itinerary for the "Romance Tour" of Paris is already off track.

Jean-Luc isn't happy that an American has been dumped on him. He has to finish his portfolio, a photography project about Paris. Now, he feels as if he has to show an American the highlights of Paris.

But, this American doesn't want to see Jean-Luc's highlights. She's there to rush through an itinerary from "the best, most magical trip" her parents ever took. It will take most of Serena's twenty-four hours for both of these young people to realize that sometimes great romantic memories are about the people more than the sites.

Kiss Me in Paris was deeper than I expected with the cover and title. Jean-Luc is the character who mentions "bereavement, stress, mistaken identity". It's about all of that, with an emphasis on grief. How do we face losing someone we love, and, losing memories of their time with us?

The book does cover some of the tourist highlights of Paris, the Louvre with its crowds all trying to see the same artworks, the Eiffel Tower, the boat rides on the Seine, the bookstalls along the river. But, it's also a story about understanding yourself, and, at times, giving into serendipity instead of a rigid itinerary. There's much more in Kiss Me in Paris than a reader would expect with a romance between two college students.

Kiss Me in Paris by Catherine Rider. KCP Loft (Kids Can Press), 2018. ISBN 9781771388672 (hardcover), 204p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

Before I knew how popular Kate Clayborn's contemporary romance would be at the library, I had already put my name on the list. Love Lettering is not only a romance between an unusual couple. It's a love letter to New York City as well. How could I resist that aspect of the book? (But, I read it in two evenings to get it back for the next person on the list.)

Meg Mackworth is a hand-lettering artist whose planners and wedding items are unique. After they catch the attention of a columnist for The New York Times, she's wildly popular, called "the Planner of Park Slope" and her business takes off. She loves her work because letters speak to her. But, when Reid Sutherland shows up in front of her when she's covering a stationery shop for the vacationing owner, she remembers him. And, she knows what she did. She never thought one of her customers would find out.

Meg was working on all the paper items for Avery Coster's wedding, including invitations and programs, when she asked to meet her fiance. Reid Sutherland stopped in, and Meg knew the marriage wasn't going to work. Somewhere in all of the fancy designs and fairies, she wrote MISTAKE. And, now, a year later, Reid's standing in front of her. He saw the pattern. Reid and Avery never married, but he wants to know how she knew. He understands patterns. He knows math and codes, and caught there was a hidden message.

Because Meg is going through a rough time, with her roommate, with an artist's block, she's looking for something that will help her break out of her personal and artistic slump. She's drawn to this tall, handsome man, but he mentions how much he hates New York. Because he leaves a business card, Meg asks him to meet so she can show him what she loves about the city. However, she's too organized with the planned walk, one that doesn't work out. Then, Reid suggests they play a game. As these two unusual people, one who sees the world through letters, and one who sees it through numbers, explore New York City, they discover how much they enjoy each other's company. But, they both have secrets. And, Reid's secrets about his work could upset everything they're learning to appreciate about each other.

Kate Clayborn introduces a creative heroine and a grumpy hero who somehow find ways to reach each other. It's a charming romance built on discovery - of the city, of each other, of their differences. It's also a story built on turmoil and growth. If Meg hadn't changed in the course of the book, the ending might have been much different. The supporting cast is strong. There's humor and love in this book, just the qualities I appreciate in a romance.

Love Lettering is already popular at our library. Deservedly so.

You might be interested in reading the interview with Kate Clayborn in BookPage. http://bit.ly/37U2xTB

Kate Clayborn's website is www.kateclayborn.com

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn. Kensington Books, 2020. ISBN 9781496725172 (paperback), 310p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, January 10, 2020

Winners and a Thin Ice Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the first giveaway of 2020. Daniel M. from Weymouth, MA and Cheryl A. of San Angelo, TX won the copies of Murder She Wrote: A Time for Murder. Nancy C. from Garland, TX won the copy of the Agatha Raisin mystery, Beating About the Bush. The books will go out sometime in the next couple days, depending on weather.

This week, I have three copies of Paige Shelton's Thin Ice to give away. The book was a terrific kickoff to a new series set in Alaska. Yesterday, Margie Bunting mentioned she just finished the book. Margie summarized it beautifully, so I'm going to quote her summary. (Terrific book. You won't be sorry if you win it.) 

Here's what Margie wrote. "Author Beth Rivers (who writes under a pseudonym) checks herself out of the hospital after brain surgery to escape to a place where she will be safe from her kidnapper, who is still at large. Her new home is in a remote area of Alaska, where no one will be likely to know her . . . hopefully. The setting is described realistically, with stark but beautiful scenery and neighboring wild animals. Beth still can't remember much about her ordeal, but it starts coming back sporadically. The tiny town has a number of interesting inhabitants, including four women in the halfway house where Beth is renting a room. It's claustrophobic, scary, and engrossing. One mystery is solved at the end of the book, but another is left hanging, so I'm assuming we'll be seeing more of Beth in the future."

Are you ready to read the first in a terrific new series? Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read "Win Thin Ice." Please include your name and mailing address. You can't win if I don't have your mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Jan. 16 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Good luck!

Thursday, January 09, 2020

What Are You Reading? and Margie Bunting's Best Books of 2019

It's Thursday! Of course, we're going to talk about what we're all reading this week. However, this time of year, it's fun to kick off the discussion by looking at favorite books read in 2019. This week, Margie Bunting shares her list. I love to read Bunting's lists. She's an excellent writer; she reads some of the same titles I do, and she discovers some books that are new to me. I hope you enjoy her list of favorite books read in 2019. Thank you, Margie. (And, I'm going to pick up The Widow of Rose House.)


This was a difficult year for me, starting with the passing of my husband on January 5. But reading has always been my "comfort and joy" so it was a major factor in helping me make it through. Despite everything, I managed to polish off 185 books in 2019.

As always, it's impossible to pick the ten books I most enjoyed during the year, but here is a sampling of what I particularly loved.

My favorites are usually the "feel-good" books, human stories with offbeat characters, their struggles, some humor and an uplifting ending. My very favorite was HAVE YOU SEEN LUIS VELEZ? by Catherine Ryan Hyde. A 17-year-old boy isn't comfortable with either of his parents, so he finds a new family with a 92-year-old blind neighbor looking for her volunteer helper, who has disappeared. Raymond takes over Luis' volunteer responsibilities and starts looking for the missing man among 21 local Luis Velezes, resulting in a courtroom trial. The book is about how we see and treat others, and how difficult it is to identify our own purpose and identity. It's a heart-breaking, life-affirming gem of a book.

THE WIDOW OF ROSE HOUSE by Diana Biller is a recent find which somehow manages to successfully combine paranormal, mystery, and Gilded Age historical romance genres. It features a spirited but socially reviled young widow, an abandoned house (complete with ghosts), and the most likeable hero since Mr. Darcy.

NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes scored with her first book, EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER. Evvie can't tell anyone she isn't exactly grieving her husband's death. Dean was a celebrated baseball pitcher until he suddenly couldn't pitch. These two lonely souls need each other but can't seem to find their way. Lovely book!

I have long enjoyed Lorna Landvik's books, and CHRONICLES OF A RADICAL HAG was a standout for me this year, even though I found the title less than appealing. Haze wrote a column for her small-town newspaper for 50 years, until a stroke put her in a coma. Waiting for her to recover, her publisher decides to rerun some of her columns and their responses from the locals, with the help of the publisher's 14-year-old son. The boy, his fellow students, and the townspeople learn something about their own lives in the process.

THE BOOK CHARMER by Karen Hawkins is an utterly engaging story about two strong women - a librarian whose books tell her who needs to read them, and a woman who arrives in town to care for her ill mother but plans to leave as soon as possible. The librarian somehow knows she must retain the newcomer as a permanent resident if the town is to recover from its downward spiral. Humor, sadness, interesting characters - a perfect mix.

ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER by Hazel Prior is a quiet story about a lonely wife who discovers a barn full of beautiful harps made by a man who lives a solitary life and struggles with social interactions. She wants to learn how to play the harp, but her husband won't allow it. Along the way, she is charmed by the way the harpmaker lives his life, while hers seems to have lost meaning. Beautifully told and inspiring.

I had missed HARRY'S TREES earlier, but I kept hearing wonderful reviews of this Jon Cohen novel. Harry is finding it impossible to rebuild his life after his wife has died, until he finds a way to leave his soulless desk job. He meets Amanda and Oriana, who have lost their own husband/father, in a forest, and they struggle together to overcome the past. The story involves an inhabitable tree house, a mysterious book, and an abundance of gold, not to mention the quest to save a crumbling library. Magical.

Next, I want to mention a few memoirs. You don't have to like fashion to enjoy I.M. by Isaac Mizrahi, beautifully written with a lot of humor and insight. SAVE ME THE PLUMS is the latest by Ruth Reichl, in which she looks back at her 10-year struggle to keep Gourmet Magazine afloat. I also have to mention FINDING DOROTHY by Elizabeth Letts, even though it is a "fake memoir" of Frank Baum's wife Maud, who wants to protect her husband's book while "The Wizard of Oz" is being filmed. She becomes a consultant and tries her best to protect Judy Garland from being exploited and abused. Maud's own life story, while fictionalized, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

San Francisco Police Sergeant Adam Plantinga scored big again this year with his POLICE CRAFT: WHAT COPS KNOW ABOUT CRIME, COMMUNITY AND VIOLENCE, my nonfiction pick. My favorite part is the heartbreakingly poignant - even poetic -chapter about life on city corners. The author sprinkles his much-needed wry humor throughout and writes with an assurance that can only come from experience, sensitivity, and a deep intelligence. It's wildly entertaining - don't miss it.

In the category of crime fiction, I have been happily stunned by all three in Matt Goldman's series featuring Minneapolis P.I. Nils Shapiro, including the one released in 2019, THE SHALLOWS. Steven Cooper also aced number three, VALLEY OF SHADOWS, in his series about Phoenix police detective Alex Mills and reluctant psychic Gus Parker. Sharon Bolton's THE CRAFTSMAN is another superior, creepy thriller, this one featuring Florence Lovelady as the rare female police constable in Lancashire, England in the 1960s, disrespected by her male colleagues but demonstrating bravery and sharp insights. In the traditonal mystery genre, you can't go wrong with Paula Munier's series, the second of which is BLIND SEARCH, featuring military police veteran Mercy and her dog Elvis - a fellow Afghanistan vet - trackers and investigator sin wintry Vermont.

Finally, here are a couple of books that don't fit into any of the genres I've mentioned. Jane Stanton Hitchcock's BLUFF is really a caper book. Fiftyish former socialite Maud, who now has to make her living as a professional poker player, is on the run after she fires a gun at two sleazy men. Several other wronged women are involved, and it is a quick, light, very enjoyable romp. And Alix E. Harrow's THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY was my only foray into SF/Fantasy, and well worth my time. It is set in the early 20th century and stars young January and her quest to find her missing father and escape her guardian, which ends up opening many unexpected doors to new lands and people. Unique and fascinating.

Happy New Year to Lesa and my friends at Lesa's Book Critiques - I enjoy hearing your comments about what you're reading every Thursday. I hope 2020 is a wonderful reading year for you!

Thank you, Margie! I hope you have a wonderful reading year as well.

Now, everyone - Feel free to comment about any of the titles on Margie's list, if you've read them or plan to read them. As I said, I'm picking up The Widow of Rose House. It sounds just up my alley.

But, it's also time to tell us what you're all reading. The lists are my way of kicking off a new year and including people who have other reading tastes. Let us know what you're reading, please!