Monday, July 31, 2006

Charmed to Death

I seldom read two books in a row by the same author, but Shirley Damsgaard caught my attention with her Ophelia and Abby mysteries. The sequel to Witch Way to Murder finds Grandmother Abby leading demonstrations against factory hog farms, while Ophelia continues to fight against her psychic abilities.

However, this time, Ophelia doesn't have much choice. Abby lets her know that she still has work to do to bring her friend Brian's murder case to a conclusion. Brian's murder almost five years earlier caused Ophelia's breakdown and her retreat into herself, because she "saw" the murder, but couldn't prevent it. Ophelia's attendance at a library conference in Iowa City brings her in contact with Detective Henry Comacho, the police detective who always suspected she knew more than she told about Brian's death.

When events take a turn for the worse, it's Ophelia's mother who astutely tells her she's afraid of her psychic gift. This series definitely has its dark side, threats, injury and murder. Readers looking for two appealing characters can't go wrong with Ophelia and Abby, though. The characters are the strength of this fascinating series.

Shirley Damsgaard's new book, The Trouble with Witches, will be released August 29th.

Her web site is: www.shirleydamsgaard.com

Charmed to Death by Shirley Damsgaard. Avon Books, c2006. ISBN 100060793538 (paperback), 288p.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Eight of Swords

I will admit I was very reluctant to read David Skibbins' debut mystery, Eight of Swords. The hero is a manic-depressive reading tarot cards on the streets of Berkeley. It sounded just like something out of the 1960s or '70s.

But, Warren Ritter, the tarot card reader, was even more intriguing than the plot of the book. Readers who are looking for fascinating characters can't go wrong with Warren. Born Richard Green, he was a leader of the Weather Underground, until he was supposedly blown up in the 1970s. Actually, he disappeared and built a few different identities in case he had to disappear again.

Thirty years later, he's reading tarot cards in Berkeley when he has an extremely bad day. A teenage client is hollered at by an ex-boyfriend, and later kidnapped. His sister appears, and recognizes him behind his plastic surgery. What can get worse? What if the kidnapping case turns to a murder case, and someone tries to pin the murder on Warren?

Warren's story will capture your imagination. I've already picked up the second in the Tarot Card mystery series, High Priestess, to see what happens to Warren Ritter.

David Skibbins' web site is www.davidskibbins.com

Eight of Swords by David Skibbins. St. Martins, c2005. ISBN 0312352255 (paperback), 274p.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Witch Way to Murder

Ophelia Jensen, a 30ish librarian in a small town in Iowa, might be the main character of Shirley Damsgaard's debut mystery, but this is hardly a cozy. Ophelia fled her previous job after the brutal murder of her best friend, and her subsequent breakdown. She has psychic ability, and felt she should have been able to prevent his death. Now, she does her best to deny and shut down that ability.

Unfortunately, her grandmother, Abby, is a witch - a wise woman originally from Appalachia. And, when a stranger appears in town just about the time that thefts and the meth problem escalates, Abby already knows Ophelia will become involved. When Ophelia finds a body, the reluctant heroine is drawn into the town's crisis.

Appearances are deceiving in this mystery, from start to finish. Damsgaard has introduced two appealing characters caught up in today's problems.

Shirley Damsgaard's web site is www.shirleydamsgaard.com

Witch Way to Murder by Shirley Damsgaard. Avon Books, c2005. ISBN 100060793481(paperback), 292p.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Iron Ties

The second mystery in Ann Parker's Silver Rush series is just as intriguing as the award-winning Silver Ties. The railroad is now coming to Leadville, CO in the summer of 1880. Inez Stannert is already uneasy following the recent miners' strike that caused a loss of income for her Silver Queen Saloon. When her friend Susan, a photographer, witnesses an act of sabotage against the railroad, she's the victim of an avalanche, and her memory might be faulty about what she overheard. When the two bodies she saw fail to turn up, Inez is the only one who believes her. Despite warnings from her business partner, Abe, she pushes her way into railroad business.

Inez' discoveries lead her to the realization that the Civil War isn't really that far in the past, only fifteen years. Feelings still run high against the railroad, and, for some, against the pending arrival of General Ulysses S. Grant. What does Reverand Justice Sands know about the events surrounding Grant's arrival? Inez would love to trust him with her suspicions, but her jealousy won't allow her to give in. Instead, she continues to investigate on her own, looking for a connection between new arrivals in town, the railroad, and a pending threat against Grant.

Ann Parker brings the 1870s and 1880s to life in her wonderful historical mysteries, featuring appealing, realistic characters.

Ann Parker's web site is www.annparker.net

Iron Ties by Ann Parker. Poisoned Pen Press, c2006. ISBN 1590582624 (Hardcover), 368p.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Don of the Dead

Readers who enjoyed Alice Kimberly's The Ghost and Mrs. McClure might want to try Casey Daniels' debut novel, Don of the Dead. Both books feature reluctant amateur detectives, but Daniels' character, Pepper Martin, seems to be a little stronger, and more independent.

Pepper has been forced to learn to be stronger than she was brought up to be. Her father was sent to prison for Medicare fraud, her mother fled to Florida, and her boyfriend dumped her. She's on her own when she takes a job as a tour guide in a Cleveland cemetary. She isn't prepared to see a ghost following an accident in which she hit her head on a tombstone. Gus Scarpetti was the head of the largest crime family in Cleveland, until someone killed him. Gus wants to know who shot him, and Pepper is his best bet to find his killer.

Daniels leaves a major storyline unresolved. Who is Dan, the brainy man interested in Pepper's mind? Hopefully, this will be resolved in the next book in the series. Readers will discover that Pepper is a tenderhearted, determined sleuth. I'll be waiting for her next adventure.

On a personal note, I enjoyed the descriptions of the Cleveland area. Since I'm from northcentral Ohio, I'm familiar with some of the locations, including the renamed cemetary.

Casey Daniels' web site is www.caseydaniels.com

Don of the Dead by Casey Daniels. Avon Books, c2006. ISBN 0060821469 (paperback), 325p.

Murder, Eh?

The fourth mystery in Lou Allin's Belle Palmer series is an enjoyable story with a likeable protagonist. Allin's descriptions of northern Ontario are worth reading all by themselves.

Belle, a realtor in her mid-forties, is an independent, good-hearted bush woman. She knows her way around the isolated north country. After she finds the murdered body of the local bakery owner, she grows attached to the woman's twelve-year-old son, Micro. Micro, who lost his father and sister in a boating accident, is alienated from his stepfather. When Micro runs away, Belle uses her backwoods skills to search for him. She may be foolhardy, but she's a caring woman.

Allin's descriptions of setting and character will make the reader search out earlier books in this series.

Lou Allin's web site is www.louallin.com

Murder, Eh? by Lou Allin. Rendezvous Press, c2006. ISBN 1894917278 (paperback), 274p.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Garden of Vipers

Jack Kerley writes fast-paced thrillers with two terrific characters, Mobile, Alabama police detectives Carson Ryder and Harry Nautilus. The first one in the series, The Hundredth Man, was fascinating with its introduction to the characters and Carson's background as the brother of a killer, incarcerated for insanity. The Death Collectors was a gruesome story of people who collected memorabilia from murders. Kerley's books are not comfortable to read, but they are fascinating.

A Garden of Vipers is a twisted story of connections and influence. How is the murder of a young woman in her car connected with the poison death of a man in prison? Carson's girlfriend leaves him, for a connection to money and power. How is the wealthy, powerful Kincannon family connected to crime in Mobile? Ryder and Nautilus soon find there is a dark side to power. They could find themselves trapped in "A Garden of Vipers."

Read Jack Kerley for his carefully crafted plot. Then you'll continue to read Kerley for his fascinating characters.

Jack Kerley's web site is www.jackkerley.com

A Garden of Vipers by Jack Kerley. Dutton, c2006. ISBN 0525949526 (hardcover) 334p.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Restoring Grace

You're missing very enjoyable romantic comedies if you haven't yet discovered Katie Fforde. She writes fun novels about women learning to be independent, following divorces or breakups. Her latest is just that, with the addition of a second woman maturing into adulthood.

Ellie Summers is single, pregnant, and the breadwinner in her artistic household when she comes across a house she'd like to paint. Ellie photographs houses, and offers to paint a picture for the owner. Grace Soudley can't afford the picture. Her life fell apart when her husband left her. She has an old house that's in desperate need of repair, a sister who nags her for a share of her inheritance, and she still misses her husband. She also has a tender heart. When Ellie leaves her boyfriend and needs a place to stay, Grace offers to share expenses, and takes her in. When Grace's ex-stepdaughter shows up at the front door, she fights her former husband and his first wife to allow the girl to live with her. Wine tastings are not going to keep the household going forever, though. Problems pile up, as do romantic entanglements. Somewhere in all this mess, there might be a future for Grace.

Katie Fforde's characters are well-developed and always interesting. This plot bogged down a little in the middle, and the book probably could have been edited and shortened by about 100 pages. But Fforde is hard to beat for enjoyable British romantic comedies.

Katie Fforde's web site is www.katiefforde.com

Restoring Grace by Katie Fforde. St. Martin's Press. c2006. ISBN 100312358776 (hardcover), 388p.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Too Darn Hot

Sandra Scoppetone's latest mystery takes the reader back to the hot summer of 1943 in New York City. It's wartime, and women have taken men's jobs as the men are off fighting for the country. Twenty-six-year-old Faye Quick was a secretary until her boss left, turning his detective agency over to her. Faye is a wise-cracking detective with a heart of gold, who is still learning the job and making a few mistakes. She agrees to look for a young woman's missing soldier boyfriend, and finds that appearances are deceiving from the very beginning of the case. Soon Faye is caught up in murder, attempted murder and kidnapping.

Too Darn Hot is an interesting mystery, but Scoppettone's strengths lie in her creation of atmosphere and character. She brings wartime New York to life, with its people and their language, including the slang. Faye is excited about a slice of pie at the Automat, and she has a cup of joe with it. We observe the city through Faye's eyes as she notices other women in unfamiliar jobs and the soldiers too young to be at war. She catches on to a climate of anti-Semitism that she had not been aware of before. We also learn a little more about Faye's family than we knew from the first book in the series, This Dame for Hire.

For an escape into the past, try Too Darn Hot.

Sandra Scoppettone's web site is:
www.sandrascoppettone.com

Too Darn Hot by Sandra Scoppettone. Ballantine. c2006. ISBN 0345478126 (hardcover), 268 p.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Murder Passes The Buck

Joan Hess has her Maggody series. Anne George's Southern Sisters series had its unusual characters. Deb Baker has made the Upper Peninsula of Michigan her own in Murder Passes The Buck. Sixty-six-year-old Gertie Johnson has her own set of quirky friends to compare with the characters in either of the other series. It's a funny mystery with a serious message.

Gertie's been mourning her deceased husband for almost a year, and it's time to get on with her life. When her neighbor is shot dead on the opening day of deer hunting season, she jumps on the chance to investigate his murder. It doesn't matter that her son, the sheriff, has ruled it an accidental death. Gertie's friends rally around to support her investigations, despite her occasional opposition to their assistance. Her 6'4", 250 pound grandson, Little Donny, and her flirtatious friend Cora Mae act as co-pilots, while her friend, Kitty, insists on being her bodyguard. Their Keystone Cop antics as they chase around town belie the seriousness of Gertie's mission. The feisty, opinionated woman is determined to solve the murder. She also has to prove to her son that she's competent to live alone and manage her own affairs.

Deb Baker's Gertie is an independent, strong woman, learning to cope after her husband's death. She thrusts herself into the madcap adventures of life in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and finds she's a survivor.

Deb Baker's web site is www.debbakerbooks.com

Murder Passes The Buck by Deb Baker. Midnight Ink. c2006. ISBN 0738708720 (paperback), 264 p.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Silver Lies

Ann Parker doesn't need my accolades for her first mystery, Silver Lies. It received all kinds of awards when it came out in 2003. And, deservedly so. It's an outstanding historical mystery.

Set in Leadville, CO in December of 1879, the mystery introduces Inez Stannert, owner of the Silver Queen Saloon, in a silver mining town. Her husband, Mark, disappeared eight months earlier, leaving her to work with their third partner, Abe Jackson, a Negro friend. Leadville is a violent town, and it's not unusual for bodies to be found in the street. The sheriff doesn't worry about it, but Inez does, when the body of local assayer and friend, Joe Rose, is found behind the Silver Queen. She's sure he was murdered when the town doctor says he was dragged behind the saloon. Inez' suspicions only increase as she tracks Joe's financial records on behalf of his wife, and discovers he had secrets involving the richest man in town and a local madam. She doesn't trust the new minister, either, but turns to him for assistance.

Parker's book is a fascinating post-Civil War story of a mining community. Everyone had secrets, and everyone had plans to get rich. The characters are well-developed. Inez Stannert is a strong woman, trying to make a living. She's a force to be reckoned with in the community in her determination to find justice for a murdered man. Iron Ties, the second book in the Silver Rush historical mystery series is now available, and I'm looking forward to it.

Ann Parker's web site is www.annparker.net

Silver Lies by Ann Parker. Poisoned Pen Press, c2003. ISBN 159050729 (hardcover), 420 p.

Changes to Blog

I want to thank my husband, Jim Holstine, and web designer Heidi Mack (www.xuni.com) for their advice and assistance in changing my blog. I've had this blog for a year and a half as http://nikkishome.blogspot.com, sharing it with a couple friends. Since neither of them had a lot of time to write, most of the book reviews and articles were mine. Jim and Heidi both pushed me to change the blog to reflect its true purpose, to share the book reviews that I had written. I'll continue to submit book reviews to Stacy Alesi's web site, www.bookbitch.com. And, I'll be reviewing women's fiction for Library Journal. However, http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com gives me a place to share longer bbok reviews, with a specialization in mysteries.

Thank you for checking it out! Keep reading!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Deerskin by Robin McKinley

I am rereading this fantasy for a book discussion. I LOVE this book. It is loosely based on a little-known Charles Perrault fairy tale called Donkeyskin. In it, Lissla Lissar is a princess, and when her mother dies, a neighboring prince gives her the gift of a fleethound puppy, called Ash. The dog is so well written, and really is a major character in this dark fairy tale of a daughter put upon by an insanely grieving father. It is extremely well-written and is about Lissar coming into her own. (Of course, I may very well be prejudiced, since I love books about dogs!)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hit Parade

AAARRGGHHH! That was my reaction to one of the stories in Lawrence Block's new collection of John Keller stories, Hit Parade. Keller is an introspective hit man who collects stamps while talking about retirement. Each of the stories flows together to tell one story. What do you do with an aging assassin in a changing world, a world of airport security and gated communities? Keller and his partner, Dot, face the challenges of a post 9/11 world. This is an enjoyable, fascinating collection. I never thought about the personal life of a hired gun before. It's also an exasperating collection. In one story, the reader never knows if Keller finished the job or not. Highly recommended for frustration and enjoyment.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

ThrillerFest lunch with Louise Ure and Elaine Flinn



I met Louise Ure in the lobby to go to lunch with her, and a couple other readers/fans. Louise is the author of the Shamus nominated book, Forcing Amaryllis, which is terrific. The other fans were Tom and Sue, a couple from California. Tom is a big fan and supporter of mystery writers, and it was a fun lunch with them. Louise also invited Elaine Flinn, award-winning author of a series of mysteries about an antique dealer - Dealing in Murder, Tagged for Murder, and Deadling Collection. We had such a nice lunch, and it was so nice of Louise to invite us all. She said she was celebrating the receipt of her royalty check.

I left after lunch so I could spend the rest of the holiday weekend with Jim. I was disappointed to hear that the next conference will probably be held in New York City. With only about 350 participants, this was such a nice intimate conference. It gave us a chance to run into people and talk to authors. They did a terrific job with the first conference! I'd recommend it to any fan.

Pictures - Top to bottom - Lesa & Louise Ure
Elaine Flinn & Louise Ure

ThrillerFest Saturday morning





Saturday morning, Sue and I met up to go to the Spotlight Presentation in which Sandra Brown was interviewed by James Rollins. Both of them did a nice job with the program.

I took a little time between programs to get some pictures and autographs. I met up with Chris Grabenstein, author of Tilt-A-Whirl and Mad Mouse. I had reviewed his books for Heidi Mack, web owner of www.xuni.com, and for www.bookbitch.com. Terrific, fun mysteries set in a resort in New Jersey. His forthcoming book is Slay Ride. It'll be a little darker, and it's not part of the series. He was providing saltwater taffy for the giveaway table to publicize his books.

While waiting for the next program, I ran into Nancy Taylor Rosenberg. She told me how much she loved libraries, how much they meant to her, and her husband was nice enough to take pictures.

She was on the panel, "Now You Tell Me! Who Knew?" Harley Jane Kozak was an excellent moderator as the panelists discussed things no one told them about being a writer. Along with Rosenberg, the panelists were Robert Ferrigno, Joseph Finder, Christopher Reich and Brad Meltzer. Who knew Brad Meltzer had such a great sense of humor? Fun panel, with some good storytellers. It was a nice way to end the morning's programs.


Pictures - Top to bottom - Sandra Brown
Robert Ferrigno and Brad Meltzer
Lesa & Nancy Taylor Rosenberg
Lesa & Chris Grabenstein

ThrillerFest Friday afternoon


Sue and I went to the spotlight presentation of R.L. Stine, during lunch. I think a lot of people who attended were like us - lunch was provided with a ticket to the conference, so we might as well go to lunch in the hotel. I really was only mildly curious about R.L. Stine, because I was already a librarian when Goosebumps and his other children's books came out. He was fantastic! He had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand as he told about his background and writing horror stories for kids. He is a fantastic storyteller with lots of humor. Lunch was good, and R.L. Stine was so much better than I expected. I heard other people saying the same thing in the hallway later.

While waiting for the last program of the day to start, I met Pam Nolan. Pam is Pam N on ARM, the online mystery discussion group I belong to. ARM stands for Anal Retentive Mystery Readers because we all like to read mystery series in order. Pam's from Florida, but she got married in Las Vegas two days earlier, and came to Phoenix for the conference. It was fun to meet another ARMie.

The last program of the day was so much fun. It was The People v. Jack Reacher, a trial in which Lee Child's character, Jack Reacher was on trial for murder. M. Diane Vogt, who is a lawyer in Tampa, was the judge. Paul Levine was the defense attorney. Michele Martinez was prosecutor. James O. Born was the witness, an ATF/DEA Agent. David Dun was the bailiff. And, Lee Child portrayed Jack Reacher. There were two juries for the trial. One jury included a number of reviewers - Stacy Alesi, Peter Cannon, Hallie Ephron, Ali Karim, David J. Montgomery, Kathleen Sharp, Damian Thompson and Sarah Weinman. The other jury consisted of twelve members of the audience.

The cast did a wonderful job putting on a murder trial in two hours. Michele Martinez took her role very seriously, and the rest of them played it for laughs. Paul Levine was hysterical. Lee Child can do so much with humor with such a straight face. The judge warned the jury she wanted them to consider the case very seriously, despite "Mr. Reacher's" sex appeal. Levine told them to remember if they found him guilty, there would be no more books. When both juries were hung - 9 for acquittal, and 3 for guilty, one juror told Levine his appeal worked. Personally, I think it was the sex appeal. The entire group did a fantastic job, and it was a great program.

Picture: Lesa and Pam Nolan from ARM reading group

ThrillerFest Friday morning






Sue and I met outside the first meeting room at 8:45 Friday morning. The first panel we attended was called, "Beyond Da Vinci." Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code was the 800 pound gorilla that hung over the whole conference. Overtunes were - how it became such a big bestseller, why it was so popular with readers, what's going to be the next popular subject.

Panelists for this program were Richard Liparulo, John Case (Jim Hougan), Rebecca York, and Katherine Neville, author of The Eight. James Rollins was the moderator, and he did a very good job. But Kathrine Neville was fantastic, and I'll have to read The Eight. It's one of those books on my TBR list that I haven't gotten around to reading.

We spent a little too much time getting Thriller signed in between programs, and Sue and I were a little late for the next panel. Chris Grabenstein was the moderator of a fun program, Thrillers Live Talk Show, in which he asked Lee Child, Alex Kava, and Michael Palmer questions about writing. This was a fun panel that no one took seriously as Chris asked questions from cards, just as if he were a talk show host. Lee Child, as always, was funny. Since he says he'll never write a novel about a character except Jack Reacher, he said his last Reacher novel will be called Die Lonely, and Reacher will be killed and dismembered so no one can bring him back again. I had never seen either Alex Kava or Michael Palmer, and they were enjoyable. But Alex really had a terrific sense of humor as a panelist. Fun panel.

In between panels, had a chance to meet Christine Kling, author of Surface Tension. I had invited her to the Lee County Reading Festival just before I left Ft. Myers. She had been so pleased to be asked, and she did participate, but it was after I left.

I also had the chance to meet Betty Webb, who is a mystery writer here in the Phoenix area. Betty is the author of the Lena Jones series, books that include Desert Wives and Desert Run. These are fascinating stories, incorporating local history. We hope to get her to speak at the Velma Teague Library some day.

The last panel of the morning was How the Masters Influence the Next Generation. J. Carson Black, Jeff Buick, Grant Blackwood, Mark Gimenez, and Thomas O'Callaghan were the panelists, but I really went to see Jonathon King, the moderator. King's first novel was The Blue Edge of Midnight, and I admired it so much that I told everyone about it. No one describes the Everglades as he does. It went on to win the Edgar for Best First Novel. His latest book, Eye of Vengeance, is a departure from his Max Freeman series, but it's a very good book. King and I had a very nice short conversation after the program.

Pictures - Top to bottom - Jonathon King
Lee Child
Betty Webb
Katherine Neville
Lesa & Sue Komernicky

ThrillerFest Reception




The International Thriller Writers, Inc. held their first ThrillerFest Convention at the Arizona Biltmore here in Phoenix from June 29-July 2, 2006. Jim & I went to the reception on Thursday night, and met Sue Komernicky, the Foothills Library manager, there. The reception was held to celebrate the publication of the book, Thriller, a collection of short stories by a number of the authors participating in the conference.

I went to get the book signed by a few authors - Lee Child, J.A. Konrath, and James Rollins, among others. Since Lee Child is a Yankees fan, and Jim's a Detroit Tigers fan, he asked that Lee sign his story with Go Tigers, which he did. He's a very gracious man with a great sense of humor. Louise Ure later told me that they were so late going to dinner after the reception that Carolina's, the Mexican restaurant I recommended, was already closed.

Right after Lee Child signed the book, I ran into Stacy Alesi, the Bookbitch. I review books for her on her web site, www.bookbitch.com, and I'd only met her once before at the Lee County Reading Festival. It was so good to see her again.

During the reception, we sat at the same table as John Lescroart and his wife, who was nice enough to take the picture of us. Check out Jim in his new "Hippie Dippie Jim" outfit, as he refers to it.

Nice reception, and the conference looks like it will be great.

Pictures - Top to bottom - Lesa, Jim & John Lescroart
Lesa & Stacy Alesi (Bookbitch)
Lesa & Sue Komernicky