Monday, July 28, 2014

My Family and Other Hazards by June Melby

What would possess an Iowa schoolteacher and his wife to mortgage their house and buy a miniature golf course in Wisconsin? As a child who worked every summer and many weekends at that course, from the time she was ten-years-old, June Melby often wondered that as well. But, when her parents sold Tom Thumb thirty years later, she was unprepared for the loss.  My Family and Other Hazards is Melby's memoir of those summers, and what they really meant.

While she was living through it, June Melby was eager to escape the work of a miniature golf course. As the middle child of three girls, she wasn't the one in charge, and she wasn't the delicate one. She was the rebellious one who questioned everything, but still respected her parents enough that her rebelliousness did not effect the business. She and her sisters were expected to work cleaning the course, painting it, waiting on customers. And, it was a never ending job; every summer, along with the weekends when they drove from Iowa to prepare the course for the summer opening, and the weekends they drove to close it up. Along the way, she lost Iowa friends, missed the in jokes in high school. But, when she ended up living in California, she found that she did her best to take her one vacation a year in the summer when she could end up back at Tom Thumb.

It was only when her parents were about to sell Tom Thumb that June Melby realized how much that course meant to her and her family. They all returned, to tell stories, and work in the ticket booth one last time. And, Melby realized that every obstacle on that course, all eighteen of them, could be seen as metaphors for life, and for her family life. Chapter by chapter, she tells that story. It's an account of parents totally unprepared to run a business, but who put thirty years of effort into it. It's a story of three sisters who remember hard work, and laughter.

At times, this book bogs down in the details of the miniature golf course, and all the work. It starts to feel a little repetitive. At the same time, it's the story of a unique childhood. My Family and Other Hazards is melancholy, with its memories of the past, hard work and family. June Melby never expected to miss Tom Thumb, but she found herself "crazy sentimental" when it came to losing her childhood home. And, it's those sentimental feelings that finally overcome the reader as well, sentiment for a vanished Midwestern past, and a vanished childhood. Melby tells of a life that most of us never lived, but she's able to remind us of family values and Midwestern summers. My Family and Other Hazards manages to tug at memories and hearts.

June Melby's website is

My Family and Other Hazards by June Melby. Henry Holt and Company. 2014. ISBN 9780805098310 (hardcover), 300p.

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

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cup of Blood by Jeri Westerson

If you've never read one of Jeri Westerson's Crispin Guest Medieval Noir mysteries, now is the perfect time. Cup of Blood, the new release, is a prequel to the series. You can meet Crispin Guest, the disgraced knight, and learn how he first met up with young Jack Tucker. And, if you've read any of the books in this historical mystery series, Cup of Blood will remind you why Crispin Guest and Jack Tucker make a terrific team.

Seven years earlier, Crispin Guest was stripped of his knighthood when he was found guilty of treason. He spent those years trying to survive, until he became the "Tracker", hired to find lost objects. He still remembers the people who turned their backs on him, though, and some of those people will end up involved in the strangest investigation of his career. Crispin is in his favorite London tavern when a young cutpurse tries to steal his purse. Crispin catches Jack Tucker, but when they approach one of the other men, thinking he was dead drunk, they discover he was just dead. And, his death leads Crispin into trouble. It seems the dead man was a Knight Templar, a warrior monk from the group that was abolished and disappeared seventy years earlier.

When Crispin convinces the sheriff that Jack didn't kill the man in the bar, the young street urchin begs to become Crispin's servant. Jack isn't always there to watch Crispin's back, but he's there to rescue him when men kidnap him, and demand he tell them where "it is". It's the first of a number of people who beg or insist that Crispin find or turn over some unknown item. How many people are determined to hire Crispin? Two groups of "monks", a secretive woman, and a woman from Crispin's past. This missing item, and the murder of a mysterious Knight Templar, may put Crispin in the worst danger of his life.

Westerson's prequel to the Crispin Guest series is a wonderful introduction to the disgraced knight. In the course of this mystery, set in 1384, she sets the stage introducing Crispin, Jack Tucker, and the story of Crispin's past. She tells his story, the story of his loss, his bitterness, and his lack of awareness that he actually has better friends with the working people than he ever had as a knight. It takes young Jack Tucker, a boy of only eleven or so, to open his eyes. "Here was a boy who had nothing. Far less than Crispin, no prospects, no shelter, no hope. Yet he was as cheerful a soul as he had ever met." Jack's street smarts and his innate intelligence make him one of my favorite characters.

Crispin Guest and Jack Tucker are the Don Quixote and Sancho Panza of 14th century London, on their own grand adventures to right wrongs and maintain the knight's code of chivalry and honor, even if Crispin is no longer a knight. It's a team that struggles through the cruelty and brutality that comes with Crispin's profession, hunting thieves and killers. Jeri Westerson's Cup of Blood is a riveting introduction to her characters, the setting, and medieval mysteries.

Jeri Westerson's website is, and she's on Facebook as Jeri Westerson (Crispin Guest).

Cup of Blood by Jeri Westerson. Old London Press. ISBN 9781497476127 (paperback), 310p.

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

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan

Do you have a favorite children's book, one that has always stayed with you? Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan is a favorite of three generations in my family. I just reread if for the oddest reason. I'm doing a brown bag lunch in a couple weeks. The topic is "The World at War", and I'm featuring books about World War I and World War II. And, I have to say, Snow Treasure remains one of my favorite novels about World War II.

When I was a kid, the edition I read said Snow Treasure was based on a true story. The current edition says, "For many years the story was believed true. But over 60 years later, there is no proof that it ever really happened." I don't care. In my heart and mind, this remains a story of the strength and courage of the Norwegian people, even the children, in the face of the Nazis. It will always be one of my favorite books.

In April 1940, the Norwegian people knew it wouldn't be long, and they might be invaded by the Germans. So, the people of the town of Riswyk devised an audacious plan. They had thirteen tons of gold worth nine million dollars. They weren't going to allow the Nazis to capture it. Instead, they formed teams of children, and sent them out to play on their sleds. On each sled, they tied gold bricks, and sent the children down toward the fjord to bury the gold in the snow until the sailors on Victor Lundstrom's fishing ship, the Cleng Peerson, could load it on the ship.

As a child, it was wonderful and terrifying to read this book. At twelve, Peter Lundstrom, Victor's nephew, is put in charge of all the teams of children. As you read about the determined children, who refused to speak to any Germans, and continued to work for the good of the their country, there's a feeling of pride that children could do this. Uncle Victor and the adults of the town may have devised the plans, but the children carried them out, having to face the Nazis on a daily basis.

Whether or not the story is true, I'd recommend it to any young reader as an adventure story filled with danger. It's inspiring to watch the children pull off their job. And, it's inspiring to witness the underground opposition to the Germans. Seventy-two years after it first came out, Marie McSwigan's Snow Treasure remains an exciting adventure story. And, I'm recommending it to a group of adults in a couple weeks.

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan. Scholastic Inc. 1942. ISBN 0-590-42537-4 (paperback), 156p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Scottoline Package Giveaway

You should all know that the mother-daughter author team Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella have a new essay collection just out called HAVE A NICE GUILT TRIP, since I reviewed it recently.

Lucky for you I have a copy of this book--plus their FOUR previous books--to give away to one lucky winner. (Yes, the winner gets all 5 books!) There will be one winner, and you must be from the U.S. to win.
I'd love to have you comment below with the name of the place you would sneak off to if you could manage a solo summer getaway. But, to enter the contest, email me at Your subject heading should read "Win 5 Scottoline Books." Please include your name and mailing address.  I'll pick one winner at random on Thursday night, July 31 at 6 PM CT.

You can also enter to win this awesome "Guilt Trip Giveaway" prize pack worth more than $1,000! Visit this page on Lisa's website for full details and the entry form

Oh, and I'd sneak back to New York City if I was going to sneak away for a trip. Where would you sneak off to by yourself?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Contest Winners

I have a fun contest tomorrow, one that's a little different, so I'm announcing the winners of this week's contest tonight instead of on Friday. Karen C. of Cleburne, TX won the copy of Sharon Bolton's A Dark and Twisted Tale. Cynthia F. of New York, NY won FaceOff. I'll put both books in the mail tomorrow.

And, I hope you stop by tomorrow to check out the terrific giveaway!

Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention by Claire Cook

What do you want to be when you grow up? Or, another way Claire Cook phrases it, "What would you like your life to be in five years and what's getting in your way?" Cook, the author of eleven novels, has turned to nonfiction for Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way). It's a thought-provoking, inspiring book. If you've thought about changing your career and following your passion, Cook's book just might provide the needed push.

Cook tells her own story, mixing in writing advice, career changing advice, and life stories of people who reinvented themselves. She says she always wanted to be a writer, but choked. She finally found her voice at 45, sitting in her minivan writing her first book. At fifty, she walked the red carpet when her book, Must Love Dogs, premiered as a movie. Cook is excited about the changes she made to her life, celebrates with the statement "Midlife Rocks!", and offers pointers to help others who want to change their lives.

The author points out that her books are aimed at women, and, in each of her novels the heroine is stuck in some way, trying to find her own next chapter. Her novels, and her life, are about reinvention. She's learned a few lessons along the way to reinvention, and she is generous in sharing those lessons and tips for moving to a different career and life. Cook relates her points with humor and anecdotes. And, for those of us who love animals, there are plenty of stories about cats and dogs, including one chapter called "Catitude".

If you're looking for a push, some tips, some inspiration, it might be time to check out Claire Cook's Never Too Late. Is it ever too late to ask "What is the thing you feel so passionately about that you'd do it for free?" Claire Cook reminds us it's Never Too Late.

Claire Cook's website is She's on Facebook at Claire Cook (author), and on Twitter as ClaireCookwrite.

Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way) by Claire Cook. Marshbury Beach Books. 2014. ISBN 9780989921084 (paperback), 290p.

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Murmurs of Insanity by Gerrie Ferris Finger

Gerrie Ferris Finger's first mystery, The End Game, introduced Moriah Dru, the ex-cop who started Child Trace, a specialty private investigative agency, and her lover, Richard Lake, an Atlanta Detective Lieutenant in Homicide. Many of Moriah's cases are for the juvenile justice system. In Murmurs of Insanity, though, she juggles one case of a juvenile drug runner who has disappeared, and one case as a favor for Lake. That case is enough to drive anyone insane.

Lake's ex-wife's half-brother, Baxter Carlisle, has been accused of stalking a college student. The wealthy restaurant owner denies it, but when the student's boyfriend, Damian Hansel, disappears, Baxter is the primary suspect. He doesn't take it seriously, but Moriah does. It seems both college students were artists. When traces of Damian start to show up; his cell phone, then some clothes, Moriah, Damian's father, and the police think something is seriously wrong. Baxter hires Moriah to prove he has nothing to do with Damian's disappearance. But, did he have anything to do with the death of another student artist? And, then Moriah's employee, a computer expert, finds that Damian's girlfriend doesn't really exist.

If all of this sounds confusing, it is. The investigation covers two Georgia cities, and Moriah is called back to Atlanta to deal with the missing juvenile drug runner. Drugs, the strange world of performance art, and murder make for an uneasy mix in this book. Moriah Dru specializes in cases involving juveniles, and Finger had to stretch to bring her into Baxter Carlisle's case. I'm not saying murder investigations aren't messy. But, the combination of these two cases didn't work for me.

Perhaps Murmurs of Insanity will work for someone who reads more for plot than character. Although I liked Finger's first book, The End Game, and have followed Moriah Dru and Richard Lake in the others in this series, I couldn't feel a great deal of sympathy for the characters in this one. When I see that the book is suggested for fans of Dennis Lehane, I think fans of Shutter Island, not fans of the Kenzie/Gennaro series. I would recommend it to suspense readers who enjoy novels with a warped, psychological bent.

Gerrie Ferris Finger's website is

Murmurs of Insanity by Gerrie Ferris Finger. Five Star. 2014. ISBN 9781432828585 (hardcover), 308p.

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

August Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obisidan

Eleven August mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian are definitely a treat. Jinx fans, though, will be a little disappointed. He was off napping somewhere. I did manage to interrupt Josh for a minute during his name, so the video book chat ends with a cameo. Oh, well. Are you here to learn about books or see cats? (smile)

Here is the list of the books from this month's chat.

Murder in the Mystery Suite by Ellery Adams (1st Book Retreat mystery)
Taken In by Elizabeth Lynn Casey (9th Southern Sewing Circle mystery)
Book Fair and Foul by Erika Chase (4th Ashton Corners Book Club mystery)
Billionaire Blend by Cleo Coyle (1st time in paperback, 13th Coffeehouse mystery)
Shear Trouble by Elizabeth Craig (4th Southern Quilting mystery)
Extra Sensory Deception by Allison Kingsley (4th Raven's Nest Bookstore mystery)
Death by Devil's Breath by Kylie Logan (2nd Chili Cook-Off mystery)
Well Read, Then Dead by Terre Farley Moran (1st Read 'Em and Eat mystery)
Death of a Crabby Cook by Penny Pike (1st Food Festival mystery)
If Catfish Had Nine Lives by Paige Shelton (4th Country Cooking School mystery)
The Cat, The Vagabond, and the Victim by Leann Sweeney (6th Cats in Trouble mystery)