Friday, January 31, 2020

Winners and Award Nominees Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Rachel F. from Parkersburg, WV and Sue F. of Crosslake, MN won the copies of City of Scoundrels. Murder Cuts the Mustard is going to Lisa G. from Pensacola Beach, FL. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away two award nominees. Catriona McPherson's Strangers at the Gate is a nominee for the Simon and Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award. Finn and Paddy move to the small town of Simmerton. Everything seems to be falling in place. Paddy's been made partner at the law firm in town, and Finn has found full-time work as the deacon. And, Paddy's new boss even offered them the use of a gate house on his property. It feels like a fairy tale until Finn keeps hearing strange sounds, and the thicket of trees make her feel claustrophobic. Then she and Paddy discover the bloody bodies of Paddy's boss and his wife, and a strange email makes it clear it was murder.

Ann Cleeves kicks off a new series with The Long Call, an Agatha Award nominee for Best Contemporary Novel. She introduces Detective Matthew Venn. In North Devon, Venn stands outside the church as his estranged father's funeral takes place. When he left the strict, evangelical community he grew up in, he lost his family, too. But a call to investigate a murdered body found on the beach nearby soon brings him back to the people and places of his past. What he discovers there will force his new life into a collision course with the world he thought he'd left behind.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Strangers at the Gate" or "Win The Long Call." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Feb. 6 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

What Are You Reading?

Are you ready to talk about what you're reading this week? It's Thursday, so it's time to share what books you've read this week, or what books have bookmarks in them right now.

I've just started the seventh Ellie Stone mystery by James W. Ziskin, Turn to Stone. I've only read a couple chapters. Ellie's in Florence, Italy in 1963, invited to represent her father at a symposium where he's to receive an award posthumously. But even before the symposium, the body of the man who organized it is fished out of the Arno. She still goes for a weekend with others from the gathering, but a rubella outbreak leaves them quarantined. It appears to be a charming weekend otherwise, but Ellie wonders if one of the others is a killer.

That's just a brief summary from the back of the book since I don't know enough to write more. Now, you'll either have to read the book, if you're interested, or wait for my review.

What have you had time to read this week? We'd love to know!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A Sister's Courage by Molly Green

While I enjoyed the premise of A Sister's Courage, the first in Molly Green's Victory Sisters series, I
had to continually remind myself how young Raine Linfoot was. The heroine of the book may have been a pilot during World War II, shuttling planes between airfields, but she was only seventeen when she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary. By the end of the book, she was only twenty. There are reasons I found her rude and abrupt, sometimes quite selfish, not the easiest person to like.

Lorraine (Raine) Linfoot wanted to be a pilot from the time she was young, and her father first let her take a ride in a plane. Even then, she and her father kept the flight a secret from her French mother, who would have objected. Raine learned to keep a lot of secrets from her mother, including her job when she was seventeen, and her flying lessons. By the time the war was on, and the women in the AirTransport Auxiliary were hired to ferry aircraft to airfields, she could no longer hide her passion from her mother. That didn't prevent her mother from trying to coerce her oldest daughter to return home.

But, Raine enjoyed her experiences flying various planes, and working with other female pilots. She didn't enjoy living with the fear of loss. The pilot who trained her went missing, presumed dead. Another pilot, Alec Marshall, was interested in her, but she worried about him. Was he safe? Would he, too, go missing or end up dead? Would she crash a plane herself? Even when she has the opportunity to go on leave, she sees bombed out buildings, and sees death and destruction. She can't escape it in 1939 England.

As I said, I loved the history and premise of this story. Green's author's note at the beginning of the book says there were 168 female pilots including 4 female engineers who joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, risking their lives every day to ferry planes to where they were needed. And, she uses Pauline Gower, an actual woman, as an essential character in the book. According to the author, Gower was a qualified pilot who fought for the rights of female pilots to be allowed to join the ATA, and she was appointed Senior Commander of the women's section. By 1943, she also obtained equal pay for the women pilots, unfortunately only for the war years.

Raine's experiences as a pilot before and during the war years was fascinating. But, it took time for her to mature, to become less rude and inconsiderate. Perhaps she was that way because of her lifelong conflict with her mother. As the oldest of three daughters, Raine fought her mother for her desired role and career. But, I found it difficult to like her, or her unwillingness to speak the truth to a man who wanted to be first a friend, and then wanted more.

Despite my feelings about Raine, I'm still interested in the novel about the second sister. The next one is scheduled for May 2020. It's fascinating to read about the British women on the homefront during World War II.

Here's the publisher's information about A Sister's Courage

A Sister's Courage by Molly Green. Avon, 2020. ISBN 9780008378424 (paperback), 400p.

Molly Green is a seasoned author of fiction and non-fiction. She has sold lipstick in a Denver store, modelled in Atlanta, assisted the UN Narcotics Director in Geneva, chauffeured a Swiss Gnome in Zurich, assisted a famous film producer in the UK, and cooked in a sanatorium in Germany. She now lives and writes in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Night Train to Murder by Simon R. Green

I'm a fan of Simon R. Green's paranormal mysteries featuring Ishmael Jones, the alien who crashed to
earth in 1963, and has been hiding and working as a human ever since. Even I have to admit, though, that Ishmael missed the obvious answer to this locked room mystery. Really, it took him almost the entire fifty-six minutes he had to solve the case in Night Train to Murder.

In order to hide in plain sight, Jones has been working for years for mysterious groups in England, protecting people from all the monsters that walk among us. The Organization assigns him and his chosen partner, Penny Belcourt, the task of protecting a VIP, Sir Dennis Gregson, the new Head of the British Psychic Weapons Division, when they receive intelligence there will be an attempt on his life. They're to keep him alive on the one hour express train from Paddington Station to Bath.

Even Ishmael and Penny know they're better at solving murder cases than keeping clients alive, and once again they fail to achieve their goal. Sir Dennis Gregson is found dead in a locked toilet. Now, the two must question the man's bodyguard and the only three people in the compartment with them, although neither Ishmael nor Penny saw any of the passengers pass them after Gregson left his seat. And, they have fifty-six minutes to find the truth before the train reaches Bath.

As I said, it's obvious who the killer is. It really comes down to just two people, but it doesn't take long for the reader to guess the correct one. So, why read Night Train to Murder? I appreciate the wit and black humor in Green's writing. He's the author of more than fifty science fiction, fantasy and paranormal mystery novels, and all of them that I've read have his trademark humor. I love dry comments such as "Sir Dennis had been a real pain in the arse while he was alive, and being murdered hadn't changed that one bit." Maybe not the wittiest comment in this book, but I tend to enjoy the remarks rather than write them all down.

Don't read Night Train to Murder for the mystery itself. Instead, enjoy the way Green delves into the characters, Jones and the suspects, defining each of them. And, of course, enjoy the dialogue and wordplay. I hope you're not disappointed. I never am with those aspects of Green's writing.

Simon R. Green's website is

Night Train to Murder by Simon R. Green. Severn House, 2019. ISBN 9780727889171 (hardcover), 168p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Vineyards of Champagne by Juliet Blackwell

I've read most of Juliet Blackwell's mysteries, and all of her novels. However, The Vineyards of Champagne, a story of grief and love, history and vineyards, is a book with a remarkable, moving voice. Blackwell has dug into her own heart to reveal a painful story of loss and resilience.

In 1914, a wealthy Australian widow, Doris Whittaker, writes her first letter to a young solder from Reims, France. She and Emile Paul Legrand correspond as he tells his marraine de guerre, his "war godmother",  the story of the ugly, brutal life in the trenches during World War I.

In 1916, a young woman named Lucie Marechal tells of the shelling of Reims by the Germans. By day, women, and children, the elderly and infirm hide in the caves under the Champagne region of France.  There they shelter, have school, tend the sick and injured, drink champagne. Lucie's story is one of a region's resilience as the women still work to bring in the grapes, to make a Victory Vintage in the hopes that each year will mean the end of the war.

On a flight from California to France, Rosalyn Acosta, a widow and wine rep, meets an Australian, Emma Kinsley. Emma has a broken leg, so she needs help when she drops an armload of papers all over the plane. They're letters between Emma's great-grandmother, Doris Whittaker, and a French soldier from Reims. Emma's on her way to Reims to check on her vineyards, but also to search for additional letters and the answer to a mystery. What happened to Emile Paul Legrand? Rosalyn is struggling with grief over the death of her husband, a grief that has left her bereft and struggling to go on with her life. But, her boss pushed her to go to France, to represent their small company in the Champagne region. She has little interest in work. But, while Emma sleeps on the flight, Rosalyn finds the letters distract her.

Rosalyn can't sleep when she arrives in Reims, but she's had trouble sleeping ever since Dash died. She remembers her early encounters with him, their life together, and his promise they would always have laughter. But, for her, the laughter died when he did. And, her vivid world turned colorless. But, staying in Reims, learning the history of the Champagne region, and the widows who kept the industry alive, brings her to life a little. It's the research into those letters, though, that sparks something more in her. She wants to know how the people in those letters found the strength to continue to live.

Blackwell's The Vineyards of Champagne really needs to be read to come alive. A summary does not do justice to the people in the book, the living ones or the ones from the letters of history. It doesn't do justice to Rosalyn's grief, her "Grief brain", her feelings of loneliness when she's with people, her need to be alone. And, a summary can't do justice to the emotion in this book, the feelings of loss, of struggle. Or, the grief that makes one understand the tragedy of war. "If people knew what it felt like to lose a loved one, if they truly understood the agony, the unfathomable waste of a life cut short, they wouldn't be able to support the war. It would be, quite simple, unbearable."

"One foot in front of another." Read The Vineyards of Champagne for a moving story of loss, the loss of an entire generation to war and an entirely different personal loss. But, somewhere in that beautifully written story of grief and loss, there's also a glimpse of hope, and a story of resilience. There's a voice with a broken heart in this book. But, it's a voice moving ahead "One foot in front of another."

Juliet Blackwell's website is

The Vineyards of Champagne by Juliet Blackwell. Berkley, 2020. ISBN 9780451490650 (paperback), 399p.

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

PERSONAL NOTE: This is the second book I've read in two days with descriptions of a personal library fit for my favorite fairy tale, "Beauty and the Beast". So, I'm surrendering. I'm not reviewing the other book for a couple weeks, and I described that library. Here's the description of a family library in The Vineyards of Champagne.  "The library was something out of her childhood fantasies. Two stories tall, complete with a spiral staircase in one corner that led to a catwalk that encircled the room. Floor-to-ceiling shelves were lined with books, some with old leather bindings, others with glossy new covers." This is the library of dreams from the Disney version of "Beauty and the Beast". How many of us have loved that movie, and the Beast, because of that library?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Mysteryrat's Maze

Mysteryrat's Maze. Interesting title, isn't it? It's actually a podcast produced by King's River Life Magazine, You can hear mysteries by your favorite authors come to life by listening to Mysteryrat's Maze Podcast! Episodes of Kings River Life's podcast Mysteryrat's Maze, consist of mystery short stories and first chapters of mystery novels read by local actors. In current and future podcasts you will hear stories and chapters by Jeri Westerson, Dennis Palumbo, Cleo Coyle, Elaine Viets, Lesley Diehl, Donna Andrews, Connie Berry, Edith Maxwell, Nancy Cole Silverman, Kate Carlisle and many more! New episodes go up twice a month. You can listen to the episodes at, and on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify.

If you're a fan of mysteries and podcasts, you might want to check it out. Or, if you're a fan of listening to audiobooks, you might want to try listening to a podcast. It might just lead you to your next mystery!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Award Nominations

This past week, both the Edgar and Agatha Award nominations were announced. Because I didn't have a chance to post them on Thursday or Friday, I'm posting them now. Congratulations to all of the nominees.

Here was the announcement from Mystery Writers of America about the Edgar Awards.

MWA Announces the 2020 Edgar Nominations

BY MWA · JANUARY 22, 2020

January 22, 2020, New York, NY – Mystery Writers of America is proud to announce, as we celebrate the 211th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, the Nominees for the 2020 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2019. The Edgar® Awards will be presented to the winners at our 74th Gala Banquet, April 30, 2020 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.

Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland (Hachette Book Group – Grand Central Publishing)
The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The River by Peter Heller (Penguin Random House – Alfred A. Knopf)
Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee (Pegasus Books)
Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham (Simon & Schuster – Scribner)

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing (Penguin Random House – Berkley)
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (Farrar Straus and Giroux)
The Good Detective by John McMahon (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott (Penguin Random House – Alfred A. Knopf)
Three-Fifths by John Vercher (Polis Books – Agora Books)
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (Penguin Random House – Random House)

Dread of Winter by Susan Alice Bickford (Kensington Publishing)
Freedom Road by William Lashner (Amazon Publishing – Thomas & Mercer)
Blood Relations by Jonathan Moore (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Mariner Books)
February’s Son by Alan Parks (Europa Editions – World Noir)
The Hotel Neversink by Adam O’Fallon Price (Tin House Books)
The Bird Boys by Lisa Sandlin (Cinco Puntos Press)

The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder that Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen Abbott (Penguin Random House – Crown)
The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity by Axton Betz-Hamilton (Hachette Book Group – Grand Central Publishing)
American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan (Penguin Random House – Viking)
Norco ’80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History by Peter Houlahan (Counterpoint Press)
Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall by James Polchin (Counterpoint Press)

Hitchcock and the Censors by John Billheimer (University Press of Kentucky)
Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan by Ursula Buchan (Bloomsbury Publishing)
The Hooded Gunman: An Illustrated History of Collins Crime Club by John Curran (Collins Crime Club)
Medieval Crime Fiction: A Critical Overview by Anne McKendry (McFarland)
The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle  Remade the World for Women by Mo Moulton (Hachette Book Group – Basic Books)

“Turistas,” from Paque Tu Lo Sepas by Hector Acosta (Down & Out Books)
“One of These Nights,” from Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers by Livia Llewellyn (Akashic Books)
“The Passenger,” from Sydney Noir by Kirsten Tranter (Akashic Books)
“Home at Last,” from Die Behind the Wheel: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Steely Dan by Sam Wiebe (Down & Out Books)
“Brother’s Keeper,” from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Dave Zeltserman (Dell Magazine)

The Collected Works of Gretchen Oyster by Cary Fagan (Penguin Random House Canada – Tundra Books
Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu (HarperCollins Children’s Books – Katherine Tegen Books)
The Whispers by Greg Howard (Penguin Young Readers – G.P. Putnam’s Sons BFYR)
All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (Penguin Young Readers – Viking BFYR)
Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse by Susan Vaught (Simon & Schuster Children’s Books – Paula Wiseman Books)

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer (Tom Doherty Associates – Tor Teen)
Killing November by Adriana Mather (Random House Children’s Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (Penguin Young Readers – Kokila)
The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons (Tom Doherty Associates – Tor Teen)
Wild and Crooked by Leah Thomas (Bloomsbury Publishing)

“Season 5, Episode 3” – Line of Duty, Teleplay by Jed Mercurio (Acorn TV)
“Season 5, Episode 4” – Line of Duty, Teleplay by Jed Mercurio (Acorn TV)
“Episode 1” – Dublin Murders, Teleplay by Sarah Phelps (STARZ)
“Episode 1” – Manhunt, Teleplay by Ed Whitmore (Acorn TV)
“Episode 1” – The Wisting, Teleplay by Katherine Valen Zeiner & Trygve Allister Diesen (Sundance Now)

“There’s a Riot Goin’ On,” from Milwaukee Noir by Derrick Harriell (Akashic Books)

* * * * * *
The Night Visitors by Carol Goodman (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski (Harlequin – Graydon House)
Strangers at the Gate by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur Books)
Where the Missing Go by Emma Rowley (Kensington Publishing)
The Murder List by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Tom Doherty Associates – Forge Books)
* * * * * *

Shamed by Linda Castillo (Minotaur Books)
Borrowed Time by Tracy Clark ( Kensington Publishing)
The Missing Ones by Edwin Hill (Kensington Publishing)
The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime)
The Alchemist’s Illusion by Gigi Pandian (Midnight Ink)
Girl Gone Missing by Marcie R. Rendon (Cincos Puntos Press)

The Edgar Awards, or “Edgars,” as they are commonly known, are named after MWA’s patron saint Edgar Allan Poe and are presented to authors of distinguished work in various categories. MWA is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime-writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre. The organization encompasses some 3,000 members including authors of fiction and non-fiction books, screen and television writers, as well as publishers, editors, and literary agents.
Mystery Writers of America would like to emphasize our commitment to diversity and fairness in the judging of the Edgar Awards. Judges are selected from every region of the country, from every sub-category of our genre, and from every demographic to ensure fairness and impartiality.
# # #

The EDGAR (and logo) are Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by the Mystery Writers of America, Inc.

Here are the nominees for the 2019 Agatha Awards as announced by Malice Domestic. Winners will be announced at Malice Domestic 32 at the beginning of May.

Best Contemporary Novel
Fatal Cajun Festival by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane Books)
The Long Call by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur)
Fair Game by Annette Dashofy (Henery Press)
The Missing Ones by Edwin Hill (Kensington)
A Better Man by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
The Murder List by Hank Philippi Ryan (Forge)

Best First Mystery Novel
A Dream of Death by Connie Berry (Crooked Lane Books)
One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski (Graydon House, a division of Harlequin)
Murder Once Removed by S. C. Perkins (Minotaur)
When It’s Time for Leaving by Ang Pompano (Encircle Publications)
Staging for Murder by Grace Topping (Henery Press)

Best Historical Mystery
Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen (Penquin)
Murder Knocks Twice by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur)
The Pearl Dagger by L. A. Chandlar (Kensington)
Charity’s Burden by Edith Maxwell (Midnight Ink)
The Naming Game by Gabriel Valjan (Winter Goose Publishing)

Best Nonfiction
Frederic Dannay, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and the Art of the Detective Short Story by Laird R. Blackwell (McFarland)
Blonde Rattlesnake: Burmah Adams, Tom White, and the 1933 Crime Spree that Terrified Los Angeles by Julia Bricklin (Lyons Press)
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep (Knopf)
The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women by Mo Moulton (Basic Books)
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt)

Best Children/Young Adult
Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers by Shauna Holyoak (Disney Hyperion)
Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen MacManus (Delacorte Press)
The Last Crystal by Frances Schoonmaker (Auctus Press)
Top Marks for Murder (A Most Unladylike Mystery)
by Robin Stevens (Puffin)
Jada Sly, Artist and Spy by Sherri Winston (Little Brown Books for Young Readers)

Best Short Story

"Grist for the Mill" by Kaye George in A Murder of Crows (Darkhouse Books)
"Alex’s Choice" by Barb Goffman in Crime Travel (Wildside Press)
"The Blue Ribbon" by Cynthia Kuhn in Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible (Wildside Press)
"The Last Word" by Shawn Reilly Simmons, Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible (Wildside Press)
"Better Days" by Art Taylor in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

Friday, January 24, 2020

Winners and The Great War Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. The copies of Allen Eskens' Nothing More Dangerous are going to Pat R. from Huron, OH and Carl S. from Ajo, AZ. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm giving away mysteries related to World War I. Victoria Thompson's City of Scoundrels is a Counterfeit Lady Novel featuring Elizabeth Miles, con woman turned Lady. Elizabeth's finance, Gideon Bates, is waiting for his draft notice to fight in the Great War. While he waits, Gideon prepares wills for soldiers before they ship out. Corporal Tom Preston has a large estate, and he needs to make a new will because he secretly married Rose, a woman his family won't approve of. He wants to make sure she and their unborn child are provided for if he doesn't return. When he's reported killed, Elizabeth and Gideon learn when Tom's wife resealed her identity to his family, the new will went missing. She's been threatened, and Elizabeth and Gideon must figure out a way to secure Tom's fortune for his wife and child, while they keep her safe.

Jessica Ellicott's Murder Cuts the Mustard takes place in England in the lean years after the Great War. Brash American adventuress Beryl Helliwell and prim and proper Brit Edwina Davenport have formed a private inquiry agency to make ends meet. The prime suspect in a murder is right there in Edwina's potting shed. Her elderly gardener Simpkins has been secretly sleeping there after a fight with his disreputable brother-in-law and housemate, Hector Lomax. When Hector is found murdered, Constable Gibbs comes looking for Simpkins, who was seen arguing with the victim. But Edwina really thinks the lazy Simpkins would never make the effort to kill someone. A few complications and a second murder make this a fascinating case for Beryl and Edwina.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read "Win City of Scoundrels" or "Win The Mustard." Please include your name and mailing address. Just a reminder that you need to include your mailing address or you can't win. The contest will end Thursday, Jan. 30 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

What Are You Reading?

It's Thursday, my favorite day of the week! Time to talk about what we're all reading.

Last night, I finished Harlan Coben's March 17 release, The Boy from the Woods. He introduces a new hero, a man who thirty years earlier was found living in the Ramapo Mountain State Forest by himself. Wilde was adopted, but no one ever learned who he was or where he came from. Now, when a high school girl who was bullied goes missing, only a seventy-year-old criminal attorney and television personality takes it seriously. She asks Wilde to look for Naomi, and the two find themselves going down a political rabbit hole.

If you're a Harlan Coben fan, watch for this one. Terrific book. And, I'm packing my copy up for my brother-in-law.

What are you reading this week? We'd all like to know.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England Noblin

When someone feels lost, it seems as if everyone else in the world has a perfect life. It takes Maeve Stephens thirty-six years to discover she's not alone in Annie England Noblin's latest novel, St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets.

Maeve tells her own story. She doesn't think it can get any worse. In one day, the thirty-six-year-old sports reporter loses her job because the newspaper where she works goes bankrupt. She and the rest of the world see her boyfriend from the Seattle Mariners cheating on her on a video, and she's mugged on the way to her car. Of course, the world has a way of beating you down. She receives a phone call from a woman named Alice telling her that her birth mother, Annabelle, has died.

Maeve knows her parents, the Stephens, wanted her when they adopted her as an infant. And, they wanted her brother, Eli, who is several years younger. But, despite his rough past, Eli grew up to be a dentist, have a successful marriage, and two children. What does Maeve have in life? No job, no successful relationship, and a car that is dying. So, why not show up for the funeral of a woman she never knew?

But, everyone in Timber Creek, Washington knew Annabelle. She was Alice's best friend. She was a member of a small group of women in the St. Francis Society. And, she took in stray animals. She also left everything to Maeve, including a small house and an incorrigible cat who immediately falls for Maeve. Then there's the man who believes Maeve will take in animals, a man with a bulldog he can no longer keep. Maeve's terrified. She's never been able to keep anything alive, and she's not sure she'll keep the house. But, something about the small town that loved her mother attracts her. 

While Maeve relates most of the story, Noblin inserts chapters in which the reader sees a younger Annabelle. While Maeve was raised in a loving household, and felt out of place, Annabelle lost her parents at a young age, and it was Alice's family that took her in. But, just because someone has a place to sleep doesn't mean it's a safe environment.

Over the course of the story, Maeve learns about the people of Timber Creek, about her mother, and about broken lives. It takes time for Maeve to discover that everyone has a life broken in some way.

Noblin has created a cast of fascinating characters, from Annabelle and Maeve and Alice, to the mysterious writer down the street. And, appearances can be deceiving, as Maeve discovers. But, I did feel as if the author waited too long to explain the purpose of the St. Francis Society. And, while Annabelle's story was given a satisfactory ending, it felt as if Maeve's was unfinished. 

Despite the few flaws, I'd recommend St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets. The characters and their stories stand out in this book, and I'll look for Noblin's future novels.


About Annie England Noblin

Annie England Noblin lives with her son, husband, and three dogs in the Missouri Ozarks. She graduated with an M.A. in creative writing from Missouri State University and currently teaches English and communications for Arkansas State University in Mountain Home, Arkansas. She spends her free time playing make-believe, feeding stray cats, and working with animal shelters across the country to save homeless dogs.
Find out more about Annie at her website, and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.
St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England Noblin. William Morrow, 2020. ISBN 9780062748317 (paperback), 384p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a book blog tour.

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

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

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

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.

Nothing More Dangerous was my favorite book of 2019. Interested? To enter, email me at 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!