Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Wedding Circle by Ashton Lee

Over the course of Ashton Lee's Cherry Cola Book Club series, librarian Maura Beth Mayhew has come a long way. She's gone from a timid librarian who allowed Councilman Darden Sparks to bully her to an outspoken advocate for the new library that's scheduled to be built in Cherico, Mississippi. Now, it's time for Maura Beth to make changes in her personal life as well, but she'll still have to fight for her happiness in The Wedding Circle.

Maura Beth wants to marry English teacher Jeremy McShay right there in her beloved Cherico, with all of her local friends around her. But, Maura Beth's mother is determined to see her only daughter married in her hometown of New Orleans, in a celebration fit for a socialite. It may break her heart, but Maura Beth may have to use all of the manipulative skills she learned in dealing with Councilman Sparks in order to handle her mother.

Maura Beth isn't the only one, though, to have to deal with family opposition to a relationship. Jeremy knows his sister, Elise, an outspoken professor at the University of Evansville in Indiana, won't come to the wedding.Two seventy-year-olds find their plans thwarted by adult children, while Maura Beth's best friend, Periwinkle Lattimore, has to contend with her ex-husband. In other words, life is normal in Cherico, Mississippi.

The latest Cherry Cola Book Club novel, The Wedding Circle, isn't quite as dramatic as previous books. Instead, it's a charming wedding story that includes recipes. There might have even been a tear or two during the wedding scene. And, the family members introduced in this book are fun, particularly Cudd'n M'Dear. But, there's still tension. And, you can bet Councilman Sparks will still be scheming in the next book in the series. Maura Beth just has a feeling.

Ashton Lee can be found on Facebook at

The Wedding Circle by Ashton Lee. Kensington Books. 2015. ISBN 9781617733413 (paperback), 242p.

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

As You Wish by Cary Elwes, with Joe Layden

If you recognize the phrase "As You Wish", you've probably seen The Princess Bride at least once, and maybe multiple times. Cary Elwes, who starred in the movie as Westley, farmhand turned pirate, co-authored the New York Times bestseller, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. And, Elwes' account proves to be as charming as the movie itself.

Although Elwes wrote the book just last year, he relates his feelings as a young, twenty-three-year-old actor, in awe of the team put together in 1986 to film William Goldman's beloved story. Here was a young man, directed by Rob Reiner, who met the author of the book and the script, worked with Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Andre the Giant, Billy Crystal, Chris Sarandon. He was in awe of all of the others, a little in love with Robin, who starred as Buttercup, the princess. And, Elwes gathers his memories, and the comments from many of the others who worked on the film with him, including Rob Reiner and William Goldman.

This is truly a book for lovers of The Princess Bride. Elwes takes readers through the entire filming of the movie, from the time he first heard about it through its failure to be marketed well by a studio that didn't know what to do with it. And, he ends with the triumphant twenty-fifth reunion and showing at Lincoln Center. But, it's all those details, including how Elwes and Patinkin had to learn to fight for "The Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times", that brings the filming of the movie to life. And, it's Elwes' joy, shared by the others involved in the film, that sparks the book. Cary Elwes takes readers back to the filming of a beloved movie. The stories, the photos from the filming of the movie, reward the fan.

Rob Reiner, in his Foreword, sums up the film. "Was it a fairy tale? Was it a swashbuckling adventure? Was it a love story? Or was it just a nutty satire? The fact is it was, and is, all of the above." And, Cary Elwes and Joe Layden tell all of those stories in As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from The Making of The Princess Bride.

Here's a note for lovers of books, and The Princess Bride. Remove the cover, and look inside the cover itself. Shepard Fairey's artwork INSIDE the cover is gorgeous.

Anecdote: Last year, I met Cary Elwes at Book Expo America, where he was promoting this book. He was as gracious as you would expect, telling me he liked the spelling of my name. (Had I known his wife's name was Lisa Marie, I would have told him my middle name is Marie as well.) But, the funniest comment of the day caused him to laugh, too, when Kathy Reichs, who followed him on the panel, said fifteen women in the room got up and left after he was done speaking.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden. Touchstone. 2014. ISBN 9781476764023 (hardcover), 259p.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A First Date with Death by Diana Orgain

Only a mystery writer would take a reality show, throw in an ex-cop looking to get over a broken heart, and then have her wonder, are the bachelors looking for love, money or murder? Even readers who don't care for reality shows might appreciate Diana Orgain's take on them in the first Love Or Money mystery, A First Date with Death.

After Georgia Thornton was fired from her job as a public information officer with the San Francisco Police Department, and her fiance left her standing at the altar, her best friend, Becca swoops in to offer her a different reality. Quite different. Becca, assistant producer of the show Love or Money, offers her the opportunity to star opposite ten eligible bachelors. Georgia gets to pick one man, hoping for love. If she picks a man who went on the show for money, he walks away with all of it. If she picks a man who went on looking for love, they split the prize money and an exotic vacation. But, before even the first date, bungee jumping, is over, one of the bachelors is critically injured when his gear fails. The "accident" doesn't smell right to ex-cop Georgia. Can it get any worse?

It certainly can. Georgia's ex, the man who left her at the altar, shows up to take the place of the missing bachelor. She knows Paul is undercover, investigating the death, but she's still not happy to have him on the show. And, then another bachelor dies. Georgia's afraid she might be a target. And, she certainly doesn't want the last bachelor standing to be a killer.

A First Date with Death is a fun romp through reality show hell. Georgia suffers with her wardrobe, the early hours, a producer who seems cruel, Paul's presence, and her own fears. At times, she comes across as a little hysterical for an ex-cop, but the reader still roots for her to have a happy ending. And, there's as much emphasis on the men and the budding romance as there is on the mystery.

A First Date with Death launches a new series, and it will be interesting to see where Diana Orgain goes with it. This one is a tongue-in-cheek look at reality shows that aren't what they appear to be. Love or money or murder?

Diana Orgain's website is

A First Date with Death by Diana Orgain. Berkley Prime Crime. 2015. ISBN 9780425271681 (paperback), 297p.

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

Meow If It's Murder by T.C. LoTempio

Cold cases, cats, and food. T.C. LoTempio hit my interests with the first in her Nick and Nora series, Meow If It's Murder. She brings together a cast of interesting characters, a hint of future romance, and a complex mystery. But, my favorite cast members are Nora Charles, investigative reporter turned sandwich shop owner, and the cat that adopts her, a handsome tuxedo named Nick.

When Nora's mother died, she returned to Cruz, California to take over the family business, a sandwich shop called Hot Bread. But, she can't leave behind her interest in true crime. Although she submitted a few short stories to an online crime magazine, Noir, she would like to write about cold cases. And, she's particularly interested in the death of Lola Grainger, a wealthy socialite who was a customer of Nora's mother. It seems odd that Lola, who feared water, would be found drowned off the family yacht. Everyone warns Nora about involving herself in a case that was ruled accidental death. Even her best friend, Chantal, who claims to be psychic, warns her, saying she sees danger in her future.

Maybe Nora should listen to Chantal. Right after she predicts "a dark handsome stranger" will enter Nora's life, Nick turns up at Nora's door. And, in an odd coincidence, Nora tracks his original owner, a private detective who disappeared while searching for answers to Lola Grainger's death. But, with Nick, it might not be such a coincidence. The cat seems to have an uncanny ability to communicate, to understand how an investigation works, and to offer clues. Nora might not be so far off when she says she has "the world's first psychic cat". It's just too bad the hot new detective in town, Daniel Corleone, doesn't understand Nora as well as Nick does.

I read my cozy mysteries with the understanding that most amateur sleuths would have no reason to get involved in the investigations. It's part of suspending disbelief, and enjoying the story. However, Nora Charles worked as an investigative reporter for years, and the death of a woman her mother liked is a logical first case in her new location. And, of course, she's stubborn and continues to investigate when everyone, including Detective Corleone, warns her away. It's much more logical that she would investigate than the role played by Nick, a cat who is also a detective in his own right.

Meow If It's Murder is an entertaining series debut. Suspend your disbelief, and enjoy the adventures of Nick and Nora. I'm certainly looking forward to their further investigations.

T.C. LoTempio's website is

Meow If It's Murder by T.C. LoTempio. Berkley Prime Crime. 2015. ISBN 9780425270202 (paperback), 296p.

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

What Are You Reading?

I know you're disappointed. Today is the day that my monthly book chat should appear featuring mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian, and Jinx. But, Penguin changed warehouses last month, and it doesn't seem as if their mailing list is on track yet. Monday, I'll request the April shipment because it hasn't shown up yet. I'm sorry.

And, let's face it. For those of us who are college basketball fans, Thursday through Sunday this week wasn't exactly reading time. I have a pile of books including  Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell, a novel of the O.K. Corral, and the first mystery in a new series, Meow If It's Murder by T.C. LoTempio.

So, what are you reading? Or, are you totally caught up in March Madness?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

Cynthia Swanson's novel, The Bookseller, is a remarkable debut. The unusual story takes readers back to the early 1960s in a story that can't be called time travel. Dream travel sounds too gimmicky, which this story is not. At times, it reminded me of It's a Wonderful Life, which is even mentioned in the book. It's best to say The Bookseller is an unusual story about a thirty-eight-year-old woman searching for answers in her life.

By day, Kitty Miller runs Sisters, the Denver bookstore she owns with her best friend, Frieda. But, just recently, she finds herself living an entirely different life when she sleeps at night. There, she's Katharyn Andersson, married to a wonderful man named Lars. She's a housewife with children, and the bookstore and Frieda are no longer part of her life. Kitty is drawn to Lars, and her life with him. And, each day she finds it more difficult to leave that life behind. But, as she slips deeper and deeper into her alternate life, she discovers problems that aren't evident with one bedtime visit. And, then she discovers the choices she makes in one world changed lives in the other one. There are consequences to even the smallest choices in her life.

Swanson beautifully sets the scene for this book, 1962 and 1963, mentioning books that were popular at the time such as Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and Cold War novels such as Fail-Safe and Seven Days in May. In fact, the Cold War is there in the background, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the fears around it. And, of course, for 1962-63, the Kennedys, and the clothing women wore to emulate the First Lady. Clothes, music, houses, shopping centers; everything combines to set an appropriate atmosphere for this novel. And, anyone who appreciates books will look for each mention of the books of the period.

It's a story that works because of the time period. Part of the novel involves women's roles in life, whether they choose to marry or have a career, remaining single and "a spinster". There's the struggle of a woman who wants to have everything, a job and a family, and the emotional conflicts that result. There's so much more in the Kitty/Katharyn story, but further discussion would reveal too much about the storyline and Kitty/Katharyn's issues.

Unusual. Unique. Those words describe Cynthia Swanson's excellent story, The Bookseller. It's a solid, fascinating debut.

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson. HarperCollins. 2015. ISBN 9780062333001 (hardcover), 352p.

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

Friday, March 20, 2015

Winners and English Murder Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Austin C. from Evansville, IN and Julia H. from Excelsior, MN won the copies of Charlaine Harris' Midnight Crossroad. The publicist will be sending out the books.

This week, I'm giving away two mysteries set in England. Ashley Weaver's Murder at Brightwell is an Edgar nominee for Best First Novel. It's set in the 1930s. Amory Ames is feeling neglected by her husband, so the wealthy woman agrees to go to a seaside resort with her former fiance, Gil, hoping to persuade his sister not to marry an unpleasant character. When the shifty suitor ends up dead, Gil becomes the primary suspect. And, then Amory's husband shows up, amused by it all.

Or, you could travel back to 1876 with Charles Finch's character, Charles Lenox in The Laws of Murder. Lenox has given up his seat in Parliament to return to his first love, detection. As the months pass, he's not finding work in his new detective agency. But, the death of a friend, a member of Scotland Yard, brings Lenox back into the field where he finds himself in danger.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Murder at Brightwell" or "Win The Laws of Murder." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end next Thursday, March 26 at 6 PM CT.