At times, I felt sorry for Alex St. James in author Julie Hyzy's second mystery featuring her. Alex leads a busy life as a researcher at a television news magazine show in Chicago, but she didn't seem to have much joy in her life. Instead, she accepts a great deal of responsibility - looking for the reasons behind a neighbor's murder, taking care of her adult sister who has Williams Syndrome for two weeks while her parents are in Europe, and still trying to stay current at her job, despite the physical beating she took from a home invader.
Alex was with Mrs. Vicks, her neighbor, just hours before she was killed. Afterward, she felt guilty because she didn't have time to listen to her talk about the problems she was having with bank accounts at the bank where she worked. Her guilt, and some jealousy toward a newsman, made her overcome her reluctance to investigate, and agree to snoop when Alex' aunt, a police detective, and Mrs. Vicks' boss all asked her to help.
Alex was a reluctant detective, aware she was an amateur. When she had an argument with Detective Lubinski, she realized, "Here he was, trying to clear a murder, stuck working with a member of the media he so despised, and at every turn, I made big mistakes and gross errors in judgment." Alex' strong character, and her own acknowledgement of her lack of experience make her more likable than many amateur detectives. She even admits, "This isn't the job I signed on for, you know. News research isn't supposed to be a life-threatening occupation." Check out Julie Hyzy's Deadly Interest, the second Alex St. James mystery. Despite her reluctance to investigate, the reader knows Alex will be back because she has a great deal of curiousity and a keen sense of justice.
Robert Fate, author of Baby Shark, was generous enough to give me two copies of Baby Shark to use however I wanted. I'm going to offer them as prizes.
All you have to do is check my blog for Sept. 21 where I reviewed Baby Shark. How old was Kristin Van Dijk when her father was killed?
If you'd like a chance at this gritty novel, email me at Email me! with the subject BABY SHARK, the answer to the question, your name and email address. On Friday, Nov. 3, at 8 am PDT, I'll draw two names from the correct entries, and contact you for your snail mail address. As with all book sites, I will not release your information to anyone.
In Kate Flora's new mystery series, Joe Burgess, "Portland's meanest cop," is working nights when he catches the case of a murdered doctor. Flora has not only done a wonderful job with an intriguing new character, but she has made February in Maine a vital part of the book.
Burgess is the most experienced detective on the Portland police force, so his supervisor allows him to work the case, despite his hatred for Dr. Stephen Pleasant. It seems that everyone had a reason to hate Dr. Pleasant. On page 180, Burgess says, "This case has everything - unhappy wife, angry ex. Hookers. Drugs. Money problems. Maybe blackmail and a vic nobody liked, including his patients."
Although this reference is about Pleasant, it could also refer to Burgess. "It was about power. Being larger than life, with larger than life needs." Playing God. Flora's title has numerous meanings in this compelling police procedural. One of the best mysteries I've read this year.
Jim and I went to the Orpheum Theatre last night to hear Illinois Senator Barack Obama talk about his book, The Audacity of Hope. Changing Hands Bookstore sponsored him, and the theatre was sold out before last Friday. Jim was smart enough to suggest we go very early, even though he wasn't speaking until 7 pm. When we arrived in downtown Phoenix, there was already a line at 5 o'clock. We met a very nice couple in line, Eldrin and Caroline, who had been to the Democratic rally in Tempe earlier in the day. He was a retired government teacher, and we had a lot to talk about while we waited for two hours.
It was worth waiting. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon spoke a little about Barack Obama, but he was actually introducing the governor. Governor Janet Napolitano talked about some of the material in Obama's book before she introduced him. Senator Obama came out to a standing ovation. He said he was very pleased that the governor had read his book. "As you know, not all politicians read." The audience was very appreciative of Obama's allusion. He talked about the fact that the American people have much more in common than divisive politics would lead us to believe. And, the comment I appreciated the most was his emphasis on "The essential decency of the American people." He did not discuss the current hot news item, whether or not he will run for President.
After he spoke for about 45 minutes, Senator Obama signed his books. A politician is very fortunate if he's left-handed. He was able to sign books, and also reach out and shake hands. He spoke to each person, asked me my name, and thanked us for coming. He was very personable and charismatic. I'll be interested in reading his book, The Audacity of Hope.
I wanted to thank my husband, Jim Holstine, for the picture of Senator Obama.
Suzanne Adair's first novel is a powerful story of history and suspense set in a part of our history little known to most of us. Sophie Barton, a thirty-three-year-old widow, becomes the unlikely heroine in the southern theater of the American Revolution. How many of us know the part that the southern colonies, Georgia and Florida, as well as Cuba and the Caribbean played in the revolution?
Sophie was content to run her father's printing press in Alton, Georgia, not involving herself in the disputes between the British and the rebels. However, when British soldiers ask her to identify her father's body, she finds herself suspected of being a rebel. When she and her brother, David, decide to find their father's killer, they flee the British, running south with Mathias, a close friend, his Creek cousins, and his French uncle. The group plunges headlong into danger, chased by the British, threatened by Spanish spies, all on a mad rush to St. Augustine, and eventually Cuba.
Adair's debut novel is a compellling story of a strong woman, capable of more than we gave women credit for during the war. Sophie outlived two husbands, lost children, sent one child away to be raised, ran a business, and eventually, rode for weeks through dangerous wilderness, fighting off bandits with her musket, and hiding from the British. When her life, and her loved ones were threatened, she was very capable of fighting. Paper Woman is a fascinating historical novel, an intriguing story of suspense and danger, and the story of a strong woman. Paper Woman is published by a small press, but this book is well worth searching out, for all the elements that make it a wonderful debut novel.
If you're looking for a pageturner with history, romance, suspense, and a strong woman character, you can't go wrong with Paper Woman.
My reading slows down in October, with baseball playoffs and the World Series. This year, the Detroit Tigers will be playing in the World Series, and Jim Leyland, their manager, is my mother's cousin. My husband, Jim, and I have cheered for Jim Leyland's teams when he managed Pittsburgh, the Florida Marlins, and now the Tigers. We're big baseball fans, but to have a family member involved in the World Series! What more can I say?
So, I don't post as much during October. I'm reading a fascinating new historical mystery, Paper Woman by Suzanne Adair. It's set during the American Revolution. I'll review it when I finish, but it'll take me longer than usual to read due to baseball.
In the meantime, here's a reading quote.
"Great fiction can change our lives; turn us around corners. No movie ever did that to me. I might walk and talk a bit differently for a few minutes after leaving an effective film but that's about it. Novels have heft; films are filmy." - John Barth
The second book in Hailey Lind's Art Lover's Mystery series is even more fun than Feint of Art. Annie Kincaid, owner of a faux-finishing business in San Francisco, returns again to bumble her way through more escapades in the art world.
Why is Annie the only person at a gallery opening who notices the body hanging in a tree? Why is one of her best friends on a tour of a museum when a painting is stolen? Why did her mother suddenly show up with an interest in a murdered sculptor?
Poor Annie is still attracted to Michael, or whatever his name is, a "dashing, larceneous art thief," much like her grandfather, a successful art forger. At the same time, she's fighting her attraction to Frank, her landlord, "one of the most trustworthy guys she knows."
Let's face it, Annie's life is a mess. She can't attend a public event or meet a man without disaster striking. Hailey Lind has created a character to rival Stephanie Plum in the disaster department, but Annie is brighter and faster on her feet. Shooting Gallery is a fun caper novel, with non-stop action. It has everything a successful caper should have, right down to the chase scene through the streets of San Francisco. There's sexual tension, great characters, and disaster after disaster. Anyone who enjoyed Foul Play or Moonlighting will appreciate Shooting Gallery. Fans of Janet Evanovich will enjoy the series. And, anyone who just enjoys a fun book set in the art world will enjoy the Art Lover's Mystery series.
Sam Walker was a columnist for the Wall Street Journal until he cut back on his job in 2004 to join Tout Wars, a private "Rotisserie" baseball league dominated by some of the biggest names in the fantasy baseball world. Fantasyland is his enjoyable story of "A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringe."
This isn't a sports book for everyone. Unless you're a baseball fan, or have played fantasy baseball, quite a bit of the book won't mean anything to you. But, if you've ever played fantasy baseball, even on a small scale, the book is as addicting as the game itself. Walker tries everything, from scouting the teams during spring training to hiring a numbers person and an astrologer, to make his team competitive. Readers will nod as he makes wise choices, or laugh at some of his stupid decisions. This is a fun book for anyone who once sat at their computer for hours at a time, watching games in which they desperately cheered for one player.
Fantasyland by Sam Walker. Viking, c2006. ISBN 0670034282 (hardcover), 354p.
The Quill Book Awards were presented last night, awards sponsored by NBC and Reed Business Information to celebrate the publishing industry. The list of winners is available at www.thequills.org/2006.html
I did want to highlight three winners. Janet Evanovich won for Twelve Sharp in the category Mystery/Suspense/Thriller. Arizona author Diana Gabaldon won for A Breath of Snow and Ashes in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category. And, John Grogan's touching story, Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog, won in the Biography/Memoir category.
Deb Baker, author of the Gertie Johnson Yooper mysteries, introduces a new mystery series, with relatives of Gertie's. Gretchen Birch, Gertie's niece, has some serious problems. She's almost thirty, unemployed, and has a dwindling savings account. She has a cheating long-term boyfriend. And, her mother is wanted for questioning in a murder.
When a doll collector is found dead on Camelback Mountain, Caroline Birch, Gretchen's mother, was the last person seen with the victim. Now, Caroline has disappeared, and the police are looking for her. Gretchen's Aunt Nina flies her to Phoenix, to help with the search. Baker leaves the reader little teasers as to Caroline's whereabouts, and what she is doing, but the reader remains confused. Gretchen and her mother are both searching for a killer connected to the doll collecting community, but they're searching from opposite ends of the country.
Baker gives the reader fascinating glimpses into the doll collecting world, with the information that begins each chapter. This is a suspenseful mystery, filled with tension. At the same time, Baker is able to introduce quirky, fun characters into the story. Gretchen's Aunt Nina trains small dogs to ride quietly in purses. Her mother, Caroline, restores dolls, and has an unusual, secretive relationship with a homeless man. Even Gretchen's Aunt Gertie has a small, long-distance role.
Dolled Up for Murder is an enjoyable, suspenseful mystery with fun characters, and great descriptions of Phoenix life.
Lou Holtz, the college football coach known for his success, imparts his lessons about life in this current New York Times bestseller. If you're a football fan, or interested in inspiration for life, this is well worth reading.
Holtz, from East Liverpool, OH, was the first member of his family to go to college. HIs uncle exposed him to organized football; his grandfather made him a Notre Dame fan; and his high school coach told his parents he should go to college and become a coach. Although he was only 155 pounds, he played on Kent State University's football team. It was there that he learned you must believe in yourself, and give 100%.
As a fan of college football, I particularly enjoyed the stories of his coaching years at Notre Dame. He spent eleven years there, and retired, only to return a couple years later at South Carolina. The successful coach learned from his successes and failures at schools such as Ohio State, the University of Arkansas, University of Minnesota. And, his failure in the NFL reminded him of his lesson of the importance of commitment, which he lacked when he agreed to coach the New York Jets.
Holtz' book is an enjoyable football book, filled with Holtz' inspirational lessons.
Wins, Losses, and Lessons by Lou Holtz. William Morrow, c2006. ISBN 0060840803 (hardcover), 318p.
I just thought I'd give you a Heads Up! about some of the new books coming out in November so you can get on the waiting list at your local library or order them ahead of time at your favorite bookstore.
Julia Spencer-Fleming won every award in the book for her first mystery, In the Bleak Midwinter. She's outdone herself with her latest one, All Mortal Flesh.
The Reverend Clare Fergusson, an Episcopalian priest, and Millers Kill police chief Russ Van Alstyne have fought to maintain their propriety, despite their strong feelings for each other. When Van Alstyne told his wife he was in love with Clare, she threw him out of the house. At the opening of this book, he is living with his mother when his police force brings him in because his wife has been found murdered in their house. Clare and Russ are immediately the prime suspects, and the primary focus of the gossip in Millers Kill. As Spencer-Fleming says, "It is a cliche that there are no secrets in a small town. It is also true." Everyone in town knew why Russ' wife threw him out. To make matters worse, the state cops are called in, and they take away Russ' authority. Even without a badge, he uncovers some illegal dealings that may lead back to the body in his house.
All Mortal Flesh is a powerful book. If you've been following the series, it will tear you apart as you watch Clare and Russ struggle with their emotions and the current crisis in Millers Kill. Spencer-Fleming throws curves at the reader that will leave you guessing. Even the ending comes as a shock. All Mortal Flesh deserves to be one of the best mysteries of 2006.
Brad Meltzer, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Book of Fate, appeared at The Poisoned Pen Central in Phoenix today. His program was probably slightly different than most of his appearances on this book tour, because he not only addressed the public, but also members of the Arizona Bar Association. I've only heard Meltzer once before, and that was on a panel at ThrillerFest. In both cases, he showed a great sense of humor which makes his presentation fun to listen to. Today he talked about research and publishing his first book. He was in law school while he worked on The Tenth Justice, and he used his professors to ask questions about his contract with his publishing company. While writing that book, he learned how important it was to research, and to go and see firsthand the sites he talked about. Brad Meltzer stressed the importance of research and firsthand knowledge.
Jim and I went to see Brad Meltzer as part of our wedding anniversary celebration. There's nothing I'd rather do than hear an interesting author, and get the chance to meet him. While we waited in line, we watched him talk to others. He introduced himself to each person, listened to them, and thanked them for coming to see him. He's the same type of warm author as Rick Bragg, the type who is genuinely nice and shows that when meeting others. He told me he recognized my name, thanked us for coming, agreed to pose for a picture with Jim, and wrote the nicest dedication in The Book of Fate. We also asked him to sign the Author's Note because he mentioned Sandusky, OH, which is just west of our hometown. He did that, and then hugged me and thanked us again. I'll go back to hear Brad Meltzer, not only because he's a good writer, but also because he's a nice person.
The picture is my husband, Jim Holstine, and Brad Meltzer.
Well, the first time mystery authors that I championed did well this year at Bouchercon. Chris Grabenstein won Best First Mystery for Tilt-A-Whirl. I was lucky enough to get to meet both Louise Ure and Chris at ThrillerFest and their pictures are on this blog under ThrillerFest. Congratulations to both of them!
The Anthony Award winenrs are:
Best Mystery Novel: Mercy Falls by Willaim Kent Krueger
Best First Mystery: Tilt-A-Whirl by Chris Grabenstein
Best Paperback Original: The James Deans by Reed Farrel Coleman
Best Short Story: "Misdirection" by Barbara Seranella
Best Critical/Nonfiction: The Heirs of Anthony Boucher by Marv Lachman
Best Fan Publication: Crimespree Magazine, edited by Jon and Ruth Jordan
Special Service to the Field: Janet Rudolph, for Mystery Readers International
I have been a library manager/administrator for over 30 years, in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and, now, Indiana. Winner of the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award. I am a contributing Book Reviewer for Library Journal, Mystery Readers Journal, ReadertoReader.com and VibrantNation.com. Winner of the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer. First Fan Guest of Honor for Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Write Now! Conference.
It's an honor to be asked to review books, and I'm grateful to all the publishers, publicists, and authors who send me books. Thank you. Reviews will appear on my blog if I've had a chance to read, and finish, the book. If I do not finish a book, I won't review it, and I will not respond to emails asking when, or if, I'll be reviewing a book.
My reviews are only my opinion, and do not reflect the views of the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library.
I will not review self-published books, and, at the present time, do not accept books in e-book format.
My Oct. 19, 2009 blog provides full disclosure that I only receive review copies of books, with no other compensation. All review copies are marked as such. If there any any questions, please feel free to contact me.