Thursday, April 30, 2020

What Are You Reading?

Well, there you go, everyone. My apologies. I meant to take the moderation off for today because I want you all to be able to see each others' comments, but I forgot until this morning, and some of you had already commented. Sorry about that!

As long as I'm adding a new note, just to let you know, the Edgars were announced today. A lot of us don't read those books, but I did did a post for Poisoned Pen's blog. If you're interested, they are listed here. https://bit.ly/3bN2dZk

Ready to talk about what you've been reading in the last week? I can tell you I'm on page 59 (at the time I'm writing this) of my current book, and I have no idea what's going on. Normally, I would quit a book by page fifty if I'm not into it, but this is the eighth book in Ben Aaronovitch's urban fantasy Rivers of London series. That doesn't mean I understand False Value. It has something to do with Peter Grant, the police character in the series, taking a security job with a computer company, and Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage who were involved with early computers and programming.

But, I will tell you what I liked in the book. Peter asked another practitioner of magic who trained him. "The Librarians," he said. "Librarians?" "Not librarians," he said. "The Librarians." "Because in New York there was only one library with a capital L, and that was the Main Branch on Fifth Avenue...Given that libraries were the repositories of knowledge it made sense that they were also the home of secret wisdom." Now, THAT, I understand.

So, I'm reading False Value. If it doesn't pick up, though, I have half a dozen other books calling me now that I'm back into reading. What about you? What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Don't Overthink It by Anne Bogel

I ordered Anne Bogel's Don't Overthink It quite a while ago because I enjoyed her book, I'd Rather Be Reading. I just got around to reading the book subtitled "Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life." Even when a book tends to repackage other ideas, as this one does, I always think there's a moment or two of recognition.

Bogel seems to be a master at overthinking even some of the simplest choices, so it makes sense that she has been working on that issue. "These thoughts are repetitive, unhealthy and unhelpful. Our brains are hard at work but accomplishing nothing." Doesn't everyone have those nights of worry, or nights when they can't turn off their brain? Bogel discusses that, and provides questions to allow the reader to examine their own thoughts as they pertain to the chapters.

She discusses perfectionism that can lead to self-doubt and overthinking. One phrase she uses is analysis paralysis. "When seeking a solution, highly intelligent people may see whole landscapes of possibilities that others don't see - which may inadvertently lead them to make simple decisions needlessly complex." Frankly, it reminded me of Sheldon in "The Big Bang Theory".

While I enjoyed the family anecdotes that illustrated her points, I grew a little bored with the references to all of her resources. That was my own quirk, though. Others may appreciate those references and the referrals in the back of the book.

I'm sure Bogel's tips and pointers will be helpful to some readers. However, I found the last several chapters of the book to be the most interesting and hopeful. Part 3, "Let the Sun Shine In", celebrated the possibilities, memories, and, sometimes, just the serendipity of life. Everyone has times of worry. Bogel's seem to be excessive, but she's working on them. I think everyone should try working on the joy, the splurges, the simple pleasures of life.

I wrote a letter to one of my sisters after reading the last chapters of the book. Bogel shares a few stories and a blessing that particularly reminded me of her. I didn't really find much in the book that will change the way I live. But, I will always celebrate joy. Don't Overthink It was worth reading just for that final section of the book.

Anne Bogel's website is www.annebogel.com, and she blogs at https://modernmrsdarcy.com/

Don't Overthink It by Anne Bogel. Baker Books, 2020. ISBN 9780801094460 (paperback), 224p.

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick

It's release day for Phaedra Patrick's latest novel. The author of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper now brings us The Secrets of Love Story Bridge. It's the heartwarming story of a broken man who has been struggling with guilt and grief for three years.

When Mitchell Fisher's partner, Anita, died in a car accident, he blamed himself for not being with her that day. He quit his job as an architect, and moved their daughter, Poppy, to Upchester to an apartment he could afford. Now, he works for the city, cutting locks off bridges. After a local band, Word Up, had a hit with their song and video, "Lock Me Up with Your Love", thousands of people flock to the small city to attach locks to the city's five bridges. Mitchell is just doing his job when he sees a woman in a yellow dress add her padlock to a bridge. She appears to drop something in the water, reach for it, and then she falls in the river.

Mitchell doesn't really think. He dives in, and struggles to find her in the raging waters. But, he never finds out more about her. A doctor steps in to help her, and he is rushed to the hospital. That's when he panics. He was supposed to pick Poppy up and take her to her music lesson. Mitchell's workmate took care of picking her up, and Poppy ended up at her music teacher's house. Liza Bradford is everything Anita wasn't, colorful and loud and brash. But, she's kind.

She's also nervous when she calls Mitchell, now called "The Hero of the Bridge" because reporters don't know his name. Liza thinks she recognizes the woman Mitchell rescued. She believes the woman in the yellow dress is her sister, Yvette, who walked away from her life as an accountant one year earlier. Now, Liza wants Mitchell to help her find her missing sister.

Mitchell is struggling with his new-found recognition. People are sending the newspapers letters addressed to "The Hero of the Bridge", and a reporter is ambitious enough to track him down and turn over the letters. Mitchell, who is still struggling to write letters to his dead partner, doesn't want to read other people's letters. However, something about Liza and the story of her sister compels him to help her in her search.

Mitchell Fisher might be guilt-ridden, lonely, and still dealing with his own grief, but he's trying so hard for his daughter, Poppy. And, now he wants to help the Bradfords find answers. As a doctor says to him, "Maybe you're a nice guy who cares about others."

It takes Mitchell a while to see that in himself, but the reader sees it early on in this charming book. It's a story of loss and love, of struggling and letting go of the past. Those are all lessons Mitchell has to learn. And, letters and locks make him realize what he's been missing, and what his rigidity and attempt to make a life for Poppy has taken from his daughter. The Secrets of Love Story Bridge is not a story about keeping love locked up. Instead, it's a story of celebrating and being present for life.

Phaedra Patrick's website is http://www.phaedra-patrick.com/

The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick. Park Row Books, 2020. ISBN 9780778309789 (hardcover), 336p.

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

*****
Note: The Secrets of Love Story Bridge will be available through bookstores, and, in print form from public libraries when they reopen. It might be available online as an ebook or eaudio if your public library ordered it through Overdrive. A reminder that public libraries do pay for the rights for these books.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Distractions

How are you doing this week? Speak up, and if you need some emotional support, let us know. I'm here, and I'm always willing to listen. Take care of yourself.

What worked for you as distractions this week? Celtic music, Broadway & ice cream! Distractions don't get any better. I'll admit, I'm back into reading, but even I can't read all the time. So, Sunday afternoon I watched a Stageit show. Stageit "is an online venue for LIVE & interactive virtual concerts". Some of the members of Celtic Thunder do half hour or 45 minute concerts. Sunday, it was Emmet Cahill and Colm Keegan. They were in their separate homes in Ireland, while the show was controlled from a third location. Sunday night at Broadway.com, there was a 90th birthday celebration for Stephen Sondheim. 

And, then my question is, what is your food distraction? Ice cream! 



Salted Caramel & Truffles ice cream. Mmmmmmmm. I only go back to the grocery store when I run out of ice cream. (Sort of kiddling.)

How have you been this week? Did you find something to distract you?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Death of an American Beauty by Mariah Fredericks

Mariah Fredericks' mysteries featuring lady's maid Jane Prescott are rich in the cultural issues of New York during 1910-1913. At the same time, they're engrossing mysteries with an observant young woman familiar with several social classes. In Death of an American Beauty, Jane has to step out of her comfort zone to find a killer who is striking close to home.

Jane is fortunate in her employer. When Louise Benchley married William Tyler, Jane went to the Tyler household. She's appreciated there, and even has a week's vacation. Her first plans are to attend the scandalous art exhibit at the Armory where the International Exhibition of Modern Art features Cubists. She runs into a friend, Michael Behan, a reporter for the Herald who is there to cover the reaction of ordinary people. But, Michael's a little surprised when she says she's off to spend the evening at her uncle's refuge where women could learn skills. She's heading to the Southern Baptist Ladies' Cotillion, otherwise known in the refuge as "the Whores' Ball", no men allowed.

But, the Lower East Side is being gentrified, and Clementine Pickett isn't happy with the refuge, although it has been there for years. While she and her group of supporters protest in front of the refuge, rival protestors are across the street. And, everyone seems to be there when the body of Sadie, one of the girls, is found brutally murdered in the alley. Everyone's there except Jane's uncle, the Reverend Tewin Prescott. It doesn't take long for Mrs. Pickett to accuse the reverend of killing Sadie. When a former resident is also murdered, the outcry only gets worse. If the police aren't going to hunt for the real killer, Jane will. She knows it's not her uncle, although he won't provide an alibi.

It may be Jane's vacation, but she's spending the time on everyone but herself. She's assisting her employer, Louise, at Rutherford's, a high-class department store where women can shop, "Where every American Beauty blooms." Louise is participating in a pageant celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, a pageant that accompanies the annual hunt for "Miss Rutherford", and Jane is altering costumes.

Fredericks brings back a few familiar characters, but introduces some new ones, include a pianist/composer, Leo Hirschfeld, who is playing for the pageant, and a former resident, Otelia Brooks, who impressed Jane even when Jane was only eleven. Both of these characters introduce Jane to parts of New York, and stories of the city, that she did not know.

From the Lower East Side to high-class department stores, from Harlem to gangster clubs, Mariah Fredericks creates an atmosphere that brings this period and the city to life. She doesn't hesitate in any of the three books in the series to address issues of classism, racism and prejudice. And, for those who have been following the series, the epilogues in the books are enticing glimpses into the life of Jane Prescott.

Fredericks' Death of an American Beauty is a well-researched, complicated historical mystery with an intriguing, determined amateur sleuth. Anyone who appreciates mysteries whose atmosphere is created by the stories of the people and social classes should try these books.

Mariah Fredericks' website is www.MariahFredericksBooks.com

Death of an American Beauty by Mariah Fredericks. Minotaur Books, 2020. ISBN 9781250210883 (hardcover), 259p.

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

Note: Death of an American Beauty is a new release, available in bookstores. However, if your public library subscribes to Overdrive for ebooks and eaudios, this title, and the earlier ones in the series, might be available through your public library. As I've mentioned before, public libraries purchase the rights to share these books with our users.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Have You Heard? Tess Gerritsen's The Shape of Night

I'm sorry. I was too busy to finish a book for today. That's one reason I'm happy Sandie Herron sent this review of an audiobook, Tess Gerritsen's The Shape of Night. Thank you, Sandie.


The Shape of Night                                            

Written by Tess Gerritsen
Narrated by Hillary Huber
Unabridged Audiobook
Brilliance Audio (10/1/2019)
Listening Length:  9 hours 22 minutes


Ava Collette is running.  She escapes the summer heat of Boston to rent an old mansion in a small Maine village.  Perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, Brodie’s Watch is newly renovated and foreboding.  Ava hopes it will provide the solitude she needs to finish a cookbook she is writing.  She finds it difficult to focus, drinking too much to forget a tragedy that occurred on New Year’s Eve.  Her only companions are the Maine Coon cat she brought with her and the workmen finishing renovations to the turret. 

When Ava begins hearing sounds, she chalks up the noise to mice, especially when her cat catches several.  Her visit to town for mouse traps introduces her to several residents including the town’s doctor who takes a shine to her.  She is present when a local fisherman brings in a female body he inadvertently pulled in with his catch.  Returning home, Ava continues to hear strange noises and begins to see things at night.  When she sees what looks very much like a flesh and blood man in her bedroom, she visits a professional ghost hunter.  Doubting her own sanity, she begins to wonder why the woman renting Brodie’s Watch before her left in such a hurry, leaving no forwarding address, and not returning to her usual residence in Boston. 

What seemed to appear as a ghostly apparition turns into a warm, human male who claims to be Captain Jeremiah Brodie.  Since Ava is staying in his home, he demands that she submit to him and be punished.  In her fragile state of mind, Ava agrees with his domination and bondage.  Unsure whether her nights with Brodie are real or dreams, she craves the ghost over the town’s doctor who pursues her.  There is a secret the town’s people don’t readily share with Ava.  For over a hundred years, any woman who has lived at Brodie’s Watch has died there.  Is the man in Ava’s dreams really Captain Brodie, or is a killer on the loose?

Writing this description makes the book sound appealing, and in many ways it was.  Perhaps Tess Gerritsen is so good in her writing as to make the entire book unfold so easily.  However, the plot took far too long to reach any real level of suspense. The plot took far too long to reach any action of interest.  Ava almost turned away from Brodie’s Watch upon her arrival, and that foreboding echoed throughout the book. The bondage and punishment aspect of what could have been a ghostly romance pushed the book over the edge.  I almost didn’t continue, but I felt I owed Tess Gerritsen enough to finish, and I did.  The action picks up at the end of the book.  Several mysteries coalesce leaving Ava very much in danger by both real and ghostly forces.  But by then, the action was too predictable and formulaic for me to care.  A real disappointment.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Sheila Connolly, RIP

Sheila Connolly died on April 20 in her beloved Ireland, where she moved last year. I've reviewed all kinds of her books here on the blog, beginning with One Bad Apple back in 2008. She wrote the Orchard mysteries, the Museum mysteries. the County Cork ones, the Relatively Dead series, and, under the name of Sarah Atwell, a glassblowing mystery series. In the last few years, she wrote the Victorian Mystery series in which she could use some of that knowledge she had of Victorian houses.

I actually only met Sheila in 2016 at Bouchercon in New Orleans. On the last day of the conference, she, David Chaudoir, and I had a delightful morning in the city. We went to Cafe du Monde for beignets, and then we wandered around the French Quarter while Sheila told us about the houses, their fixtures, their construction. She was so knowledgeable!



But, the best tribute I can actually give to Sheila is to share a post she wrote for us in 2014 when her second County Cork mystery, Scandal in Skibbereen, came out. Sheila wrote about her love of Ireland.

*****
I fell in love with Ireland the second day I was there.

Not the first day. When my husband and I took our daughter to England and Wales, we tacked on Ireland.  After all, my father’s parents both came from there, and it was so close, how could we not?

We stepped off a plane and headed for the place my grandmother was born—and of course we got lost.  Like most Americans we didn’t realize that driving in Ireland consisted mainly of following winding two-lane roads (on the wrong side) and avoiding the occasional sheep in the road.  Signs are few and far between, and if you ask for instructions you’re usually told something like “turn left at the sixth lane, and if you go past the creamery you’ve gone too far.” While we did finally find the tiny townland we were looking for, it was not a promising start.

Then we set off again for the village of Leap, a tiny place in West Cork overlooking Glandore Harbor on the south coast, a few miles from where my father’s father was born.  By the time we arrived it was getting dark, and it had started raining—hard.  We stopped at the hotel (the only one in town) and all eight of its rooms were booked by fishermen, but they sent us around the corner to a family who had a couple of rooms available. Then we went back to the hotel for dinner, which was everything we’d ever heard about Irish food: grey meat, mashed potatoes and carrots, all swimming in murky liquid. It kept raining.

Tired and damp and discouraged, after dinner we retreated to our room and went to bed. The next morning I was the first to wake up, and I slid out of bed and pulled back the curtains to find a view of sunshine and sparkling water with gliding swans, and cows grazing on the hill, and I almost cried.  That’s when I fell in love with Ireland.

And if that wasn’t enough, I discovered that the pub across the street was called Connolly’s. That’s the place that became Sullivan’s pub, the heart of Buried in a Bog.

But it took ten years to get that book published.  I hadn’t even started writing when first saw the pub,  but the village made a lasting impression on me, and I used the setting for the second book I ever wrote a couple of years later, with the pub at its center (the less said about that first book, the better).  That book never sold, but I refused to give up on it: I rewrote it and changed the major characters not once but twice, but never the setting.  Third time’s the charm, it seems: Buried in a Bog was published in 2013 and became a best seller.

Why do I write about Ireland? I write cozy mysteries, which is what I’ve always loved to read. Most cozies are set in small towns, but American cozy writers hadn’t really ventured abroad with their stories. But since most of Ireland (with the exception of the biggest cities) is one small town, where everybody knows everyone else, and their entire family history, I thought it was perfect for cozies. 
I once told someone that visiting Ireland was putting on an old shoe: it’s like slipping into something that just fits right, like it’s been yours forever and knows your foot. Ireland felt like home, even though I’d never seen it before. And I keep going back.

My main character, Maura Donovan, was born in Boston and raised by her widowed Irish-born grandmother.  She has no interest in Ireland, having seen her share of down-and-out immigrants in Boston. But her grandmother insists that Maura visit Ireland, as her last wish, so Maura goes reluctantly, and there she finds a home and relatives she never knew she had and friends—in short, more than she ever expected. In fact, there’s one point in Buried in a Bog when Maura is overwhelmed by events and is reduced to rare tears, and she demands, “why is everybody being so nice to me?” She’s angry and confused, and unable to handle simple kindness and others looking out for her, a near-stranger. But that’s the way it is in Ireland, particularly if you have any Irish in you.

By the second book, Scandal in Skibbereen, Maura has begun to settle in. The book opens with the arrival of pushy New Yorker Althea Melville, who’s searching for a lost painting, and she can’t understand why everybody isn’t jumping to help her, and she thinks she has to deceive them to get what she wants. It falls to Maura to explain that things don’t work like that in Ireland; people are more than willing to help you, but you have to ask, not demand. By the end of the book even Althea has come around to that point of view.

There’s only one problem with writing murder mysteries set in Ireland:  few murders take place there (except in Dublin). I met with a sergeant at the local police (garda) station, who told me that they’d had all of three murders in their district in the past decade, and in each of those cases they’d known who did it.  I apologized to him for inflating their crime rate, at least on paper.

What I enjoy most about writing this series is exploring the contrast between insider and outsider, the past and the present, the old and the new. You find all of these side by side in Ireland, and sometimes I have to shake myself and wonder, what decade am I in? The townland where my grandmother was born is still using the mail box installed during Queen Victoria’s reign, and the church holiday bazaar is still raffling off a truckload of firewood. Time seems slower there. The nights are darker and quieter.  It’s beautiful and peaceful, and, yes, there are plenty of rainbows.


I’m still in love with the place. I hope I can let readers see what I see there.

*****
Ah, Sheila. You always let readers see your beloved Ireland, and then the cottage you bought and restored. May you rest in peace.


*****
Just a note. If you're looking for Sheila Connolly's books, you can find them in bookstores, of course. If your public library subscribes to Hoopla or Overdrive, they're available there as well.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

What Are You Reading?

First, how are you doing? That's the most important question. Right now, What Are You Reading? isn't quite as important, but, if you're able to read, I'm always interested.

I just finished a June release for Library Journal, so you won't see that review until mid-June. But, I think I'm now going to start Mariah Fredericks' historical mystery, Death of an American Beauty. Lady's maid Jane Prescott has a week's vacation in the latest book set in Gilded Age New York. She has plans to attend the hottest and most scandalous show in town, an art exhibition showcasing the cubists. But, her employer is starring in a play celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation speech, and the women need help with their costumes. Jane's torn between enjoying her holiday, and helping the women. But, neither of those become her priority when a woman is found murdered outside Jane's childhood home, a refuge for women run by her uncle.

At least I plan to read that. You never know what I'll actually pick up. What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Leave Only Footprints by Conor Knighton

This beautifully written book, Conor Knighton's Leave Only Footprints, is subtitled My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park. It manages to be personal, while at the same time an introduction to all the national parks in the United States. At a time when we're all forced to be armchair travelers, it's a perfect getaway.

In 2015, Knighton's fiancee called off their wedding when they had even ordered the "save the date" cards. Months later, while he was still struggling with the pain, he saw an article saying the National Park Service was planning a year-long celebration of its 100th anniversary in 2016. That was the inspiration for Knighton's own journey, a plan to visit all the national parks. He suggested featured stories to CBS Sunday Morning. He was shocked to learn the park service manages over 400 units. But, he thought he could get to the 59 official parks in 52 weeks. CBS Sunday Morning agreed to take some stories, but they didn't think they'd take stories about every national park.

Knighton's fortune cookie read, "As a chapter ends, you will find yourself on a road to discovery." And, in 2016, he kicks off his quest to see every national park by seeing the first sunrise on the first day of the year in Acadia National Park. He has so much to learn. "There's no such thing as an average national park." Some parks are dedicated to trees. Some to volcanoes. There are caves and dark parks. The parks cover deserts and prisons on islands. No matter where he is, Conor Knighton is able to describe the landscape, the parks, with words that bring tears. His book is a monument to what man has saved, and what man still needs to preserve.

While I teared up over a number of descriptions and places, Redwood National Park, with it's 159,000 moved me because of the age and immensity of the trees themselves, trees so sacred that scientists actually have to keep them secret because man will destroy them. A tree named Hyperion was measured at 579 feet in 2006, and it's still growing. But tourists could destroy the soil around it, so biologists kept its location secret. California is also the home of the world's oldest tree, Methuselah. It's been confirmed to be over five thousand years old. "It started growing before the Pyramids were built. It had already turned two thousand by the time Christ walked the earth." There are rumors of a tree in the White Mountains that is even older.

Man isn't always kind to nature. The bison were almost extinct, down to three hundred, when Theodore Roosevelt took office. Due in part to protections he put in place, there are over three hundred thousand in North America today. Light pollution has made dark parks important, places people can see the stars in the sky. Saguaro cactus are stolen from Saguaro National Park in Tucson. Knighton's book serves as a tribute to the parks, but also as a warning.

I read an ARC, an Advanced Readers' Copy of Leave Only Footprints. If you appreciate poetic, descriptive writing to go along with your travels, pick up an actual copy of the book. I'm sure there are photos you'll want to see that will take you to gorgeous locations we cherish as national parks.

Conor Knighton's website is http://www.conorknighton.com/

Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park by Conor Knighton. Crown, 2020. ISBN 9781984823540 (hardcover), 322p.

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

5 Tips for Authors During Covid-19

I would never presume to give tips to authors. But, PR by the Book's Author to Influencer Accelerator designed this list for World Book Day, which is Thursday, April 23 (Shakespeare & Cervantes both died that day). However, my blog is booked with What Are You Reading? for World Book Day. So, I'm going to pass on these tips today.

And, good luck to all the authors out there. I know it's not the best of times for anyone, but certainly not for you.

5 Tips for Authors to Promote during COVID-19 

1.    Pitch to media strategically
Despite the total saturation of the media, there are still ways that you can break through the noise with your pitches. People are looking for distractions from the scary hard news and many will spend extra time at home reading books, getting caught up on their wishlist of titles, so play to this need.

2.    Engage with your fans on social media
People are spending much more time on social media. This creates an opportunity for social media promotions with lots of “lives” since people at home will be scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

3.    Audit content that you have put out in the past
Most people have never heard of a social media audit. But, how can you know what content to post if you don’t know how your content is performing? Most social media platforms make it easy to look at metrics, so you shouldn’t have to spend too much time tracking down numbers. 
Once you know which types of content are performing the best, then you can tailor your future content and post more of what resonates with your audience. 

4.    Take time to develop new content
When you have extra time on your hands – like now, one of the best things you can do is create content that you can release in the future. Consider breaking down your book’s major points into bite size pieces. You shouldn’t give away all your book’s secrets, but you can share important bits of information to entice readers into wanting more and positioning yourself as an authority in those areas.

5.    Build out a content calendar
Once you have content ready to go, it’s best to organize it by using a content calendar. If you plan out what you are posting in advance, releasing content on a daily basis won’t be nearly as overwhelming. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Distractions

First, the important question. How are you doing? Have you been quarantined now for six weeks or a month? It's been a little over a month here. I'm reading a little more, two cozy mysteries over the weekend. But, it's still difficult to find the right book.

YouTube videos still work the best for me, usually musicals. I watched Phantom of the Opera on Friday through "The Shows Must Go On." Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals are being shown, one each weekend there. I watched a little "Dr. Who" on Sunday. And, in case you missed this link, and like Shakespeare, check it out for where you can find Shakespeare streaming. https://bit.ly/2xEpzl7 I haven't watched it yet, but I want to see Macbeth from the Folger.

What are you doing? Back to reading? Baking? Watching TV? I know Kevin Tipple, a fellow blogger who comments here binged on "Bosch". What were your distractions this week?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Here Comes the Body by Maria DiRico

Maria DiRico may be a new name for all of us. However, the copyright page, and even a note I  received from the publicist named Ellen Byron, author of the award-winning Cajun Country series, as the author of this first Catering Hall Mystery. Rest assured that Here Comes the Body is not only a polished first in a series, it's also fun with a great deal of humor.

After a failed marriage with a cheating husband who disappeared on a boat, Mia Carina is back in her Queens neighborhood of Astoria, living upstairs from her grandmother, her nonna, and eager to start work as assistant general manager at her father's party venue, Belle View Banquet Manor. But, nothing is simple in Mia's life. Her father, Ravello Carina, is a well-known mobster who is trying to go straight by making a success of the event center. But, before Mia can even meet the staff, a woman barges in, claims Ravello met her on a dating site, and "Angie here doesn't do freebies." Angie is easily removed by the chef, a former army cook. Even so, Mia feels a little uneasy.

She's smart to feel uneasy. When a gigantic cake is wheeled in for a bachelor party, no stripper pops out of the cake. Instead, Mia finds Angie's body, stabbed to death, inside the cake. It's easy for a lazy policeman to point to Ravello as a killer. It's his event center. He supposedly knew and had a run-in with the victim. And, he's a mobster connected to the Boldano family. A fire at the manor, and a second body are enough to convince a prosecutor and the newspapers that Mia's father is guilty.

What no one counts on is Mia. She's whip-smart, shrewd when it comes to crooked dealings and men (other than the one she married), and she's quickly learning how to deal with girlfriends, brides and mothers intent on having the perfect event. Put all of that together, and she uses her knowledge to track down people who might want her father out of the way. Mia has street smarts.

Donny Boldano, head of the Boldano family, tells Mia "You've got your mother's looks, your father's big heart, and your nonna's moxie." As an amateur sleuth, and strong protagonist, she needs all of those qualities. She defends the Italian and Greek grandmothers in the neighborhood from a greedy realtor. She knows how to manipulate them, and deal with the "Family". But, she's also family to the prison guards where her father has done time, and where her older brother is currently serving time. The scenes at the prison are some of the most entertaining ones in the book. Loyal to her own family, tender-hearted over pets, kind to grandmothers, respectful to her elders. Mia Carina takes some great steps forward in this promising first book. But, the author is as shrewd as her character, and there are a couple threads left dangling for future books. I can't wait.

Ellen Byron's (and Maria DiRico's) website is www.ellenbyron.com

Here Comes the Body by Maria DiRico. Kensington, 2020. ISBN 9781496725349 (paperback), 294p.

*****
Note: Again, while it's not as easy to get books from bookstores at the moment, just a note that Here Comes the Body is available as both an ebook and an eaudiobook if your public library subscribes to Hoopla. And, also a reminder that public libraries do pay for these materials.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy of the book from the publicist.


Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Diva Sweetens the Pie by Krista Davis

At a time when I needed a cozy mystery, I knew nothing would suit better than one of Krista Davis' Domestic Diva mysteries. Fortunately, I was a year behind, and still had The Diva Sweetens the Pie to read. Her new one, The Diva Spices It Up, will be released on April 28. I've ordered a copy, but I'm not sure how soon after publication it will be here. Just like you, that's one book I'll have to wait to read.

Sophie Winston and her friends in Alexandria, Virginia are immersed in Old Town's annual Pie Festival. Some have submitted pies in the contests. Bernie Frei, manager of a local restaurant, The Laughing Hound, is the festival organizer. Most of them have invitations to the welcome dinner for Patsy Lee Presley, local girl turned TV personality with the number one show in the TV cooking world. When Sophie meets her, she realizes she saw her sneaking around in bushes when Sophie was walking her dog.

Patsy Lee is the celebrity judge for the pie baking contests, but before the judging even starts she keels over on tables of pies. With the help of the police, Sophie, Bernie and their friends are able to save everything, and start a couple hours later, with Sophie's best friend, Nina, stepping in to judge. But, Sophie's a little suspicious when she recognizes a man who seemed to have been following her. She's a little relieved to see him with a young girl who enters her pie, but she still wonders about him.

Then Aly Stokes, the young girl, shows up at 5 a.m. at Sophie's house, asking her for help. Aly's mother is in prison for murdering a restaurant owner over five years earlier. Sophie's friends remember the murder, but as Sophie asks a few questions she finds some unlikely connections. It seems some of Sophie's friends who are pasty chefs, along with Aly's mother and the recently deceased Patsy Lee, all worked together at one time.

It's not unusual for an amateur sleuth to endanger herself and her friends. That's exactly what happens as Sophie delves into the past and tries to find connections between two murders. But, this series shines because of the strength of the friendships in Sophie's circle. She's still friends with her ex-husband. Her best friend shows up in her robe for breakfast. And, when Sophie herself is in trouble, it's those friends who rally to help.

I'm a fan of this series. I'm familiar with the setting, Old Town Alexandria. The recipes are always fun. I like the fact there's a list of characters for each book. I always enjoy the mysteries, but Sophie and her friends are the best part of the books. Perfect comfort reads for right now.

Krista Davis' website is www.kristadavis.com

The Diva Sweetens the Pie by Krista Davis. Kensington Books, 2019. ISBN 9781496714718 (hardcover), 320p.

*****
Note: Most of us are in the same boat, unable to get physical books from our public libraries. But, if your library has Hoopla, all of Krista Davis' Domestic Diva books are available as eaudiobooks.  The first in the series is The Diva Runs Out of Thyme. My library system has Overdrive, and the books are available there, but that's a curated collection, and the books might not be available through your library. I just wanted to mention that you might be able to find these books online through your public library. And, your public library pays for the books.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book checked out before social isolation.

Friday, April 17, 2020

What Are You Reading?

If you read my blog the last couple days, you know I read, or attempted to read, two literary novels in a row. That doesn't work for me. So, I picked up a mystery from last year. Krista Davis' Diva series always works for me.  The Diva Sweetens the Pie features Sophie Winston, an event planner in Alexandria, Virginia. It's been too many years to count, but I used to spend time in Alexandria, and Davis always takes me back there. Old Town's annual Pie festival crumbles when a celebrity judge is murdered, and Sophie's friends become suspects. I haven't started it yet, but it's going to make a welcome palate cleanser.


Tell us what you're reading this week. Or, if you'd rather just tell us how you're doing, that's fine, too. We all want to make sure everyone is okay.

Take care of yourselves!



(We'll be back on our regular schedule next week - Distractions on Monday; What Are You Reading? on Thursday.)

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles

Charles Frazier's historical novel Cold Mountain came out in 1997, and went on to win the National Book Award. It became an Academy Award-winning film in 2003. Perhaps the same will happen with Paulette Jiles' latest book, Simon the Fiddler. After all, it follows on the footsteps of News of the World, which will be a film starring Tom Hanks. And, I'll be very honest here. I reviewed News of the Worldhttps://bit.ly/3epabtp. It was a beautifully written, succinct book. But, like Cold Mountain, which I never finished, I found Simon the Fiddler too long, too descriptive, and I didn't finish it. Oh, I went to the end to find out what happened, but, even then, I wasn't disappointed that I didn't finish it. Perhaps it was the timing. When I agreed to review the book, the world was still open. Now, one man's journey to reach and marry the woman he loves just feels tedious and long. Timing might be everything. But, if you loved Cold Mountain, I think you'll like Simon the Fiddler.

Simon the Fiddler undoubtedly deserves a better review than I would give it. I've never been fond of overly descriptive novels. And, even the plot reminds me of Cold Mountain. So, instead of my review of a book I couldn't complete, here's a link to Ron Charles' review in The Washington Posthttps://wapo.st/2KaqegU

Here's the summary of Simon the Fiddler as it was sent to me.

About Simon the Fiddler

• Hardcover: 352 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (April 14, 2020)
The critically acclaimed, bestselling author of News of the World and Enemy Women returns to Texas in this atmospheric story, set at the end of the Civil War, about an itinerant fiddle player, a ragtag band of musicians with whom he travels trying to make a living, and the charming young Irish lass who steals his heart.
In March 1865, the long and bitter War between the States is winding down. Till now, twenty-three-year-old Simon Boudlin has evaded military duty thanks to his slight stature, youthful appearance, and utter lack of compunction about bending the truth. But following a barroom brawl in Victoria, Texas, Simon finds himself conscripted, however belatedly, into the Confederate Army. Luckily his talent with a fiddle gets him a comparatively easy position in a regimental band.
Weeks later, on the eve of the Confederate surrender, Simon and his bandmates are called to play for officers and their families from both sides of the conflict. There the quick-thinking, audacious fiddler can’t help but notice the lovely Doris Mary Dillon, an indentured girl from Ireland, who is governess to a Union colonel’s daughter.
After the surrender, Simon and Doris go their separate ways. He will travel around Texas seeking fame and fortune as a musician. She must accompany the colonel’s family to finish her three years of service. But Simon cannot forget the fair Irish maiden, and vows that someday he will find her again.
Incandescent in its beauty, told in Paulette Jiles’s trademark spare yet lilting style, Simon the Fiddler is a captivating, bittersweet tale of the chances a devoted man will take, and the lengths he will go to fulfill his heart’s yearning.
*****
I'm sorry. Read the summary. Read Ron Charles' review. Think of it as a new take on The Odyssey, which is why I was so excited about Cold Mountain in the first place. I encourage those of you who remember Cold Mountain or want another one of Paulette Jiles' novels, to give Simon the Fiddler a try.
*****
Paulette Jiles is a novelist, poet, and memoirist. She is the author of Cousins, a memoir, and the novels Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, The Color of Lightning, Lighthouse Island, and News of the World, which was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award. She lives on a ranch near San Antonio, Texas.
Find out more about Paulette at her website.
*****
Here's the link to Simon the Fiddler on HarperCollins' website - https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062966742/simon-the-fiddler/


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler's books feel as if they're stories of the lives of ordinary people, with reflections of all of our lives. That seems to be exactly what her latest novel,  Redhead by the Side of the Road is. It's the story of one ordinary man who is in a rut.

At forty-three, Micah Mortimer lives alone in an apartment building in Baltimore. His life has a routine, a run, a shower, breakfast, cleaning up, and then a morning and afternoon of answering cries of help from people who need computer assistance from the Tech Hermit, or acting as handyman/superintendent in the building. He might spent part of the evening with his woman friend, Cassia Slade, a fourth grade teacher. He would never dream of calling her a girlfriend because she's in her late thirties. In fact, Micah has few dreams left at his age. And, the narrator's question is, "Does he ever stop to consider his life? The meaning of it, the point?"

No, he really doesn't, until two people disrupt his routine. Brink Bartell Adams, a college freshman, shows up at Micah's place, saying he thinks Micah might be his father. And, Cass calls it quits when Micah can't find the right answer when she claims she's might be evicted because she has a cat. His first response is no answer, followed by the suggestion that she has a car if she wants to sleep in it.

Micah seems like an ordinary man, but even his over-the-top sisters and their families know he's awkward and stuck in a routine. The only humorous scene is the family dinner. Although Micah is loved, he's viewed with humor by everyone in the family. It's his former college girlfriend, Brink's mother, who answers Micah's question. What happens with all of his relationships with women that makes them fall apart? Actually, what happens with Micah's relationship with any person?

It's been ages since I've read one of Anne Tyler's books. But, Micah is certainly an Anne Tyler character, one whose character is slowly revealed in the course of the book, without great surprises. Redhead by the Side of the Road might be just what many of us need right now, the story of an ordinary man living his life while finding his greatest flaw.

Anne Tyler's website is http://www.annetyler.com/

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler. Alfred A. Knopf, 2020. ISBN 9780525658412 (hardcover), 192p.

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Distractions

Well, I was distracted, and didn't realize I'd missed yesterday's Distractions, and it looks like I missed it last week as well. Are you doing any better with reading this week? Or, what have you been doing while we've been socially isolating at home?

I finished a couple books. Historical romances have been my escape. But, I've still been watching musical theater. I watched Pride and Prejudice: The Musical back-to-back on Friday night. It was streaming, and the second half of the production was out of sync when I watched it live, so I watched it the second time, and it was much better. Sunday night, I watched Bloody Sunday, an Irish musical about the Easter Rising that was filmed for PBS. Tragic, but wonderful Irish music.

So, before we talk about what you've been doing, I'm going to mention a schedule change. Many of you also participate in What Are You Reading? on Thursdays. We're going to switch it to Friday, just for this week because I have a commitment for a book review on Thursday. (I didn't pick the date. I try not to pick a Thursday, if I'm given a choice.)

I did want to mention Poisoned Pen's blog, which I write. For the last two weeks, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, authors have been writing their "Distractions". The authors, so far, have been Laurie R. King, Dana Stabenow, Kaye Wilkinson Barley, and Rhys Bowen. Here's the link if you'd like to check it out. https://poisonedpen.com/category/fiction-review/

So, how are you doing? Just a reminder that we all need distractions now and then. It's not easy staying home without contact with others outside our immediate household. And, it can be even harder if you live alone. Everyone is affected by depression at moments right now, even those of us who are usually upbeat. One of my favorite journalists, who always reminds her readers to breathe, had a rough time yesterday. Her readers came through with wonderful notes of support. So, we're all friends here. I just wanted to let you know if you just want to whine or express your feelings, email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. No one is immune right now. If you need an ear or a virtual hug, please reach out.

How are you doing this week? What distractions have you found, books or otherwise?

Monday, April 13, 2020

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

As a reader, I find nothing more satisfying than an outstanding debut novel that's going to be part of a series. Evie Dunmore's historical romance, Bringing Down the Duke, has me eagerly awaiting the next in the League of Extraordinary Women series. Victorian suffragists take on the men who ruled England under Queen Victoria. And, because Queen Victoria herself was opposed to the women's rights movement, in a sense they were taking on the queen herself.

At twenty-five, Annabelle Archer, a rector's daughter, is brilliant but destitute. She reads Latin and Greek, but her life is controlled by her cousin who uses her as an unpaid housekeeper and babysitter. However, she demurely manipulates him, and even offers to pay him so she can be one of the first female students at Oxford in 1879. What she doesn't tell him is that her scholarship is from the National Society for Women's Suffrage, and, in return for that scholarship she's expected to support them. Her cousin, Gilbert, would be appalled.

He would also be appalled and force her to return to Kent if he knew she was passing out leaflets to influential men in Westminster. She has the temerity to ask Sebastian Devereux, nineteenth Duke of Montgomery, if he'll support the amendment of the Women's Property Act. Her own act of courage turns her life upside down as well as Montgomery's. Before she knows it, she and two new friends are sent off to Montgomery's home while he's out of town, to try to influence his brother and a number of friends. But, Montgomery returns early to find his home overrun by drunken Oxford students and three suffragists. When he finds Annabelle asleep in his library, he accuses her of trying to trap a duke.

"Annabelle Archer, commoner, bluestocking, and suffragist." Annabelle always thought she could outmaneuver and outwit any man. But, Montgomery is a confidante of Queen Victoria's, powerful enough with his ten estates that the scandal of his divorce didn't ruin him in society. Now, he's tasked by the Queen to be the chief strategic advisor in the next election. If he can manipulate peers and his unruly brother, he can certainly match wits with Annabelle Archer.  She finds herself debating and sparring with a man who has nothing to lose. "It took more than an educated woman with opinions to threaten him." But, these two brilliant people will find their hearts threatened by the honesty and fire in each other. And, they both have more to lose than the other one suspects.

Dunmore's debut is a well-researched historical novel of the suffragist movement in England, women's positions and vulnerabilities at the time, and class differences. Bringing Down the Duke is a passionate novel about two people, victims of their roles in life, who are caught up in history. Fortunately for readers, this first book in the League of Extraordinary Women combines the best of history with the best of romance. Dunmore's Bringing Down the Duke celebrates happily-ever-after and men and women who are strong enough to fight for their own beliefs and integrity.

And, a note: Perfect background music for this book? Mendelssohn.

Evie Dunmore's website is www.eviedunmore.com

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore. Jove, 2019. ISBN 9781984805683 (paperback) 360p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - library book


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb

Bess Kalb, an Emmy-nominated writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live! turns to a beautiful, sometimes moving, story of her relationship with her grandmother, Bobby Bell, in Nobody Will Tell You This But Me. She compiles records of their phone calls, stories told by other family memories, and her own memories of her love for the grandmother who called her "My angel".

Bobby Bell cherished, bullied, and loved her family, but Bess Kalb's connection to her grandmother was strong. Bobby saw her as a "mini-me", someone who shared her love of art and clothes and shopping. But, their greatest love was for each other. Bobby may have had troubles dealing with her own daughter, but from the first day Bess was born, she and her grandmother were close. They were so close that when Bess had trouble going to kindergarten, and then coping with school, Bobby flew up from Florida to New York each week to be there for her while Bess' mother was in her med school residency.

Kalb shares her family history, the story of four generations of women in her family. Bobby's own mother emigrated from Belarus at the age of twelve, coming to New York to escape Jewish persecution. There's the story of Bobby's marriage to her husband, a businessman who grew rich building houses, went on to teach at Columbia, and outlived his beloved wife, who died just before her ninety-first birthday. Although Bobby had three children, Kalb tells of the troubles between Bobby and her daughter, Bess' own mother. Even with all those stories, though, it's the memories and phone calls between Bess and her grandmother that connect the entire book. It's a memoir filled with anecdotes and family pictures.

While I enjoyed the phone conversations and Bobby's observations after her death, Part 3, "Our Life Together", including their shared adventures in New York City appealed to me most. Bobby took her granddaughter to Broadway, to tea at the Plaza, to art galleries. One day, at the Met, she assigned her the task of going around the room and counting how many paintings were done by a woman. Bess came back with a count of eight including Camille Corot and Camille Pissarro, all European men with names that appeared to be female to the young girl. But Bobby pointed out the only one by a woman was "Lady at a Tea Table" by Mary Cassatt. "You know how you can tell a Mary Cassatt? She was kind to her subjects. She left out their hips."

When Kalb moved to San Francisco and then Los Angeles, her grandmother called her to tell her about the Klimt exhibit at the Neue Galleries. That's the exhibit featuring "Woman in Gold" that my sister and I saw in the same year, 2015.

Kalb's memoir is the story of a strong, opinionated, wry woman who loved her granddaughter with all her heart. And, it's that story and relationship that will move readers to laughter, and sometimes a tear or two. But, there's a sentence Bobby Bell quotes often, even at the end of the book that rings true right  now. Bobby's own grandfather, her zayde, said, "When the world is cracking behind your feet, you keep walking forward."

Bess Kalb's website is www.besskalb.com

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb. Alfred A. Knopf, 2020. ISBN 9780525654711 (hardcover), 224p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy of the book from the publisher.




Saturday, April 11, 2020

Have You Heard? The Prophet by Amanda Stevens

It's time for me to turn to Sandie Herron for another review for Have You Heard? The Prophet is book three in The Graveyard Queen series. Maybe some of you are looking for an audiobook to listen to right now. Check it out.

Thank you, Sandie.

The Prophet
Written by Amanda Stevens                                                      
Narrated by Khristine Hvam
Series:  The Graveyard Queen, Book 3
Unabridged Audiobook
Harlequin Books (6/1/2012)
Listening Length:  10 hours 23 minutes

Cemetery restorer Amelia Gray finds herself spun into a spider’s web upon her return to Charleston, South Carolina.  After the physical and mental trauma of her stay in Asher Falls in THE KINGDOM, Amelia’s life is returning to normal when the ghost of murdered cop Robert Fremont asks for her help in finding his killer so that he can move on.  Amelia knows better than to acknowledge the dead or interact with them; her father taught her from a young age how to deal with the ghosts they both saw.  Now Amelia has broken all four of his rules and finds herself at the mercy of this ghost who can appear as real as any man, at any time of day.  Her interactions with him have opened a door for all sorts of evil to come forward.  

It is no wonder that Amelia finds herself craving the closeness of Detective John Devlin whom she pushed away when the ghosts of his wife and daughter overwhelmed her.  Amelia stumbles across Devlin’s path walking her dog Angus but hides in the shadows.  Seeking him out late one night, she goes to his home only to find another visitor already there and overhears a conversation about Grey Dust, a substance used by root doctors to stop the heart so a person can cross over the veil and visit the other side.  However, just the mention of its name seems to conjure dark forces.  The root doctor Darius Goodwine who brought Grey Dust from Africa just happens to be the cousin of John Devlin’s wife Mariama.  As we learn more about the relationships between characters, familial or not, they become tangled and twisted.  

Deep in the shadows, Fremont’s ghost oversees Amelia’s efforts to find out what, and who, killed him.   Without any training or guidance, Amelia stumbles in her efforts to investigate.  She uncovers more than she bargained for and discovers a blackmail scheme, a possible mercy killing, and even a dead body covered in the beetles she dreamt about the night before.  

Despite the romantic overtures and spooky circumstances, the first half of the book moved cautiously.  It focused on creating the eerie atmosphere that flowed through every page.  The prose pricked at our senses with its lush descriptions of scents, sounds, and tastes.  We went through raw emotions of fear and dread as the spirits flowed around Amelia. The chemical attraction between Devlin and Amelia was palpable.  Yet as the root doctor seemed to have Amelia in his grip and Devlin came to her rescue, the pace quickened and held me tightly in its grip.  Unable to fall asleep near the end, I realized I should have just stayed up late and finished the book rather than tossing and turning with that eerie atmosphere pervading my own dreams.  

Third in the Graveyard Queen series, THE PROPHET expounds on the story and atmosphere promised in THE RESTORER, answering some questions and posing more.  Khristine Hvam added immeasurably to this book with her narration.  Her Southern drawl and pacing added the right amount of spookiness to an already haunting story.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Murder at the Queen's Old Castle by Cora Harrison

When nothing seems to suit for reading, it's time to turn to a favorite series, a favorite country and its history. Cora Harrison's Murder at the Queen's Old Castle is a couple years old, but I never got around to reading this Reverend Mother mystery set in Cork, Ireland in the 1920s.

Seven hundred years earlier, the Queen's Old Castle was a castle at the entrance to the city of Cork. Now it's just a large department store that sells cheap goods and linens. But, Reverend Mother Aquinas once ran in the same circles as its owner, Joseph Fitzwilliam, so he was happy to let her pick through items that had been caught up in the recent flooding of the store. Despite the smell of gas in the store, she's shopping for goods for the school convent, accompanied by one of the store apprentices, fourteen-year-old Brian Maloney. She and the doctor who tends to police cases are both witnesses when Fitzwilliam staggers from his office, and falls over the railing to his death. They're also witnesses when Mrs. Fitzwilliam accuses Brian of killing her husband, saying it was supposed to be her.

Eileen McSweeney, one of Reverend Mother's former students, is also on the scene, along with what appears to be half the population of Cork. Eileen is quick to turn from printer's clerk and delivery girl to reporter, writing down everything she observes, and even doing a little investigating before the police turn up. Dr. Scher knew it was murder and even found a canister of gas. He sent for another one of Reverend Mother's former students, Inspector Patrick Cashman.

Suspicion falls on members of the victim's family. The miserly store owner's entire family worked at the store, long after his money could have provided them with a comfortable living. Only his oldest son, Major James Fitzwilliam, didn't work there. He entered the store just in time to see his father plunge to his death. While the family appears to be suspects, time after time Mrs. Fitzwilliam accuses Brian. As an apprentice, he can only turn to Eileen and Reverend Mother for help.

Murder at the Queen's Old Castle is an unusual mystery in this series, with a complicated ending. Reverend Mother is suffering from a cough and shortness of breath, so everyone comes to her to talk. Once again, Patrick Cashman, Eileen McSweeney, Dr. Scher and Reverend Mother's wealthy cousin, Lucy, bring her their information and consult her. It's Lucy who says, "You usually do know things. You sit here like a spider weaving your web and people bring you little flies of information."

This entry in the series brings back familiar characters. Patrick and Eileen are still young, and they continue to mature. It's a joy to welcome them back. However, the books in the series present an unflinching look at the history of divisions between the poor, the working class and the wealthy in Cork, and the city's history of violence and poor living conditions. The situation of apprentices, deemed fortunate because their parents could buy a job for them, is portrayed with its ugly living conditions.

Cora Harrison's Murder in the Queen's Old Castle, with its unusual, but appropriate, ending is a satisfying mystery in a series that portrays the social conditions in a time between wars. Harrison excels at the historical details of life in the 1920s in Cork, Ireland.

Cora Harrison's website is www.coraharrison.com

Murder in the Queen's Old Castle by Cora Harrison. Severn House, 2018. ISBN 9780727888303 (hardcover), 236p.

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

Thursday, April 09, 2020

What Are You Reading?

For me, the question this week should be, how many books are you reading as you try to find one you'll finish? Actually, I finished one, but it's for Library Journal, and it wasn't quite up to the previous books, so I won't mention it. I did tear through three historical romances this past weekend, all by Julia Quinn. But, at the moment, I'm not reading anything worth talking about.

I've decided to call this last month "The Great Hibernation", because most of us are just hunkered down, zoned out and eating. I will say I'm enjoying what I'm doing for work because I continue to select online books for the library. That's fun. I even enjoy the online meetings and webinars. I've been to the grocery store twice, every two weeks, and that's it. I've been good about staying home because I don't want to catch anything or, afterwards, spread anything.

Historical romances and Broadway music. That's how I'm getting through. You might want to check out my blog at Poisoned Pen's site. Beginning this week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, authors are posting their "Distractions". Laurie R. King and Dana Stabenow went first. You can find the blog here. https://poisonedpen.com/category/fiction-review/

How was your week? Are you feeling overwhelmed? I'll admit I only feel that way occasionally, but I had a busy day today, and books just aren't appealing at the moment. So, I'm asking you the question. What are you reading?

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

The Marshal and the Mystical Mountain by C.M. Wendelboe

A month ago, I reviewed a frontier mystery set during the 1920s in Rocky Mountain National Park.  C.M. Wendelboe's The Marshal and the Mystical Mountain is a compelling, violent story for all of us who love the works of Craig Johnson and Margaret Cole. Wendelboe brings thirty-eight years of law enforcement experience in South Dakota and Wyoming to this riveting book. Now, the same publisher brings us a frontier mystery set during the Great Depression in Wyoming.

Yancy Stands Close lost his job with the Wind River Tribal Police due to budget cuts during the Depression. But, he's worked with Wyoming's U.S. Marshal Nelson Lane before, and he takes him the case of a missing person. According to Yancy's latest lover, Sally Maddis, she hasn't heard from her brother, Jesse, in several days. The muckraking journalist was working on speculation, investigating the Mystical Mountain Lodge. According to rumor, wealthy investors bought it a year earlier. It costs visitors $1000 to "trespass" on the 8000 acre property, to hunt elk and other wildlife. But, Sally says the visitors also party hard because she's been paid large sums of money to party with them. Everyone from senators and movie stars to Al Capone have visited the resort.

Marshal Lane is not one of the welcome visitors to the resort. In fact, he's made to feel extremely unwelcome, and the security team is not happy with his appearance at the lodge. In fact, he's so unwelcome, that the former WWI Marine is hunted and shot at, and even rescued once by a poacher, an old enemy. As Lane investigates, though, he discovers a body and signs that several women may have been killed during a visitors' weekend. He's not going to let it go. Eventually, he sends a deputy undercover, and is forced to bring together a group of unlikely allies to take down a group of killers.

From the time I was a child, I liked those Saturday morning westerns, and watched Bonanza with my father. A frontier mystery is right up my alley, combining a violent western, a flawed hero, and a mystery. Although The Marshal and the Mystical Mountain is the third in a series, I wouldn't hesitate to give it to anyone who likes westerns or the current mysteries set in Wyoming.

C.M. Wendelboe's website is http://www.spiritroadmysteries.com

The Marshal and the Mystical Mountain by C.M. Wendelboe. Five Star, 2020. ISBN 9781432868369 (hardcover), 234p.

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

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Katharine Schellman, Author Interview



I don't always have a book trailer to share for a debut novelist. Since The Body in the Garden is one of my favorite books of the year so far, I'm please to share it. I'm even more pleased that I had the opportunity to interview Katharine Schellman. Thank you, Katharine, for taking time for the interview.


Katharine, would you introduce yourself to readers?               


Thanks so much for having me on your lovely blog!

I’m a former actor, a trained dancer, and a one-time political consultant. But my husband once said he should have known I was meant to write murder mysteries because I'm constantly killing our houseplants. The Body in the Garden is my debut novel, and saying that out loud still feels surreal!








Without spoilers, tell us about The Body in the Garden.    


The Body in the Garden is a historical mystery. There’s a dead body, a few red herrings, and an amateur sleuth who is determined to find the truth.

It’s also the story of Lily Adler, a young widow in early 19th-century England who is trying to rebuild her life. She lives in an era where being widowed granted women a lot of social and financial freedom that they wouldn't have otherwise had (which is a perfect situation for a sleuth to be in). But for her, it came at the cost of losing someone she loved deeply. 

Lily is trying to find out what comes next for her, and she (almost literally) stumbles over an answer to that question when a stranger is found murdered at her friend's home.


Introduce us to Lily Adler, please. Would you also talk about Captain Jack Hartley?

Lily was an interesting character to write because her circumstances require a certain suspension of disbelief. The average person struggling with grief doesn't find purpose again by solving a murder! But she's also someone standing at a big crossroads: the life she planned fell apart, and now she has to create a new one and isn't sure how to do that. 

That feeling, I think, is something most people can relate to, and it's what I hope grounds her as a character.

And I love that you asked about Jack! Jack was the childhood best friend of Lily’s husband, and he becomes an unexpected source of support through her grief. 

Like Lily, Jack is a bit of an outsider in London society, partly because of his wartime experience in the navy and partly because of his Anglo-Indian family. Unlike Lily, though, Jack isn’t very bothered by that. He’s very extroverted and enjoys being charming and popular. 

My goal was for them to really balance each other out — each one helps the other grow in ways that seemed impossible at the beginning of the book. The tone of my original draft was more darkly comic and tongue-in-cheek. Though subsequent drafts changed, a bit of that playfulness remains in Lily and Jack’s friendship. They were so much fun to write together!


Why did you pick 1815 London as the time and setting for your first mystery?

One of my main characters was inspired by Miss Lambe from Jane Austen’s Sanditon, so setting it in early 19th century England happened naturally. That was a place and time that I had read a lot of fiction set in or written during, so I thought I was really familiar with the era. When I started writing, though, I discovered how much I still had to learn.

I hope the final book gives readers a new look at an era that might already think they know everything about. I wanted to show a bit of how much was going on beneath the surface of a world that was superficially very placid and elegant.

You did such a beautiful job with the descriptions of society, social classes, and London of this time. Please tell us about your research and sources.

I had to research everything, from checking maps for the names of landmarks to reading letters and court records for a sense of colloquial speech to studying fashion plates to learn about nuances of dress. I especially had to do a lot of research into what life would have been like for people who were not upper class, or not white, or not wealthy. 

Fortunately, there are lots of amazing historians out there whose books and research I could use. I listed many of them in my author’s note at the end of the book, but the most fun to read was probably Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester. I’d recommend anyone interested in the time period pick that one up!

For me, research isn’t a one-and-done thing: I was looking things up and checking details all the way through my last pass with my editor. Of course, only about 30% of that research actually makes an appearance in the novel, but it informed everything I wrote.

But in spite of all that, the book is still a work of fiction. My goal is to try to create as realistic a world as possible but still tell a good story. So there are certainly moments where I’ve made the decision not to worry about historical details! They just might not be where you expect.

I’m not looking for spoilers for the next book, but can you tell us anything about the next book in the Lily Adler series?

My editor and I are still working out some details, but I can say without spoilers that there are many familiar faces and Lily will be asked to help catch another murderer. Readers will also meet her father and get a peek at that tumultuous relationship. Lily might discover that he knows a thing or two about the person who was murdered! 


Everyone takes a different path to publication. How did you become a published author?

I first announced that I wanted to be a writer when I was about six years old, and I was fortunate to get a lot of encouragement from my parents, who are big readers. I wrote my first novel when I was 15, and it was thoroughly terrible. It, and several others, are saved on my hard drive and will never see the light of day again! But each one was really good practice. 
The first draft of the book that eventually became The Body in the Garden was not good (and that’s a generous assessment). But when I read back through it, I knew it had potential, and I was still really excited about the characters and the story. So I started editing.
After five drafts and input from some very generous readers, I was ready to start querying. That was a surprisingly wonderful and encouraging experience! I signed with my agent four weeks after I sent my first query letter. We spent the summer revising, went on submission that fall, and sold the book to Crooked Lane in April, just under a year after I started querying. Publication was scheduled for April 7, 2020, just under a year after that.
So from starting to write that very first draft of the book to my pub date will be about five years. It felt very long at the time. But I’ve discovered that, in the grand scheme of traditional publishing, five years isn't much time at all!
What mysteries did you read that led you to want to write a historical mystery?

I didn't realize it when I first started writing this book, but I really grew up with mysteries. I read many mysteries for kids that my mother had held onto from her childhood; Mystery at Laughing Water by Dorothy Maywood Bird was one of the first I fell in love with. And I used to watch Masterpiece Theatre with my parents, so lots of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories. 

When I got a little older, I started reading all the Agatha Christie books those shows were based on, which eventually led me to more modern crime writers. So mysteries — especially traditional and historical mysteries — were something that I spent a lot of time with and really loved.

It never really occurred to me to write my own, though! All my "novels in a drawer" are in other genres. Before I started writing The Body in the Garden, it wasn't a genre I had ever pictured myself writing in, even though it was one I loved reading. I generally start with characters, rather than plot. So for a while, I had these people in my head, and I wasn't sure what would bring them together in this setting. When I finally realized it was a dead body, everything just clicked: "Oh, that's what they're doing here!"

Of course, once I started writing I discovered that reading and loving mysteries does not translate to knowing how to write one. I had to spend several drafts learning how to structure and develop a mystery. It was — and is! — a fun challenge.

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?

Only five? That’s going to be tough. Let’s go with:

1.    Persuasion by Jane Austen
2.    Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
3.    A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
4.    The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
5.    Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


That’s four genres between five books — my reading taste is very eclectic! If I could list ten, things would start to get really wild

Katharine, I’m a librarian, so I like to end with this. Please tell us a story about you and a library or librarian.

One of my formative experiences as a reader was with a librarian. I think I was about five or six years old, and I had just signed up for my first solo library card. Which meant I got to pick out my own books and check them out myself, rather than having my parents do it! 

But I was a very shy child, so I went very timidly into the children’s reading room and finally worked up the courage to ask the children’s librarian how many books I could check out. When she told me, “As many as you want,” I was so excited and overwhelmed I didn’t even know where to begin. 

When I finally rejoined my parents, I had a stack of about 20 books that she had helped me pick out. And that’s generally how my library visits go these days too!

Thanks again to you and your readers, Lesa! I hope you enjoy The Body in the Garden.

*****
Thank you, Katharine, and good luck!

Katharine Schellman's website is https://www.katharineschellman.com/

The Body in the Garden by Katharine Schellman. Crooked Lane Books, 2020. ISBN 9781643853567 (hardcover), 336p.