Is there any more appropriate book to discuss on Halloween than Jim Butcher's Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files? Harry Dresden, the only wizard listed in Chicago's yellow pages, bumps into more things that go bump in the night than any other character I've read about. If it's weird and nasty in Chicago, Harry's dealt with it.
Butcher's latest book is a collection of stories about Dresden. Most of the stories were written for one anthology or another, and Butcher explains why he wrote each story, and where they fall in the course of the actual novels. For instance, "Something Borrowed" was written for an anthology called My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding, edited by P.N. Elrod. It "Takes place between Dead Beat and Proven Guilty," focusing on the Alphas, Harry's werewolf friends.
As a fan of Harry Dresden, I love finding new stories about him. But, it's also a pleasure to read the stories here because they feature so many of the friends we've grown to love in the course of the series. "A Restoration of Faith" may seem a little weak since it was Butcher's first attempt at a Harry Dresden story, but it also shows the first meeting of Harry and Murphy. Bob, Mouse, Michael and Molly all have major roles in one story or another. Thomas even gets to tell his own story in "Backup." And, for those of us who were shocked at the end of Changes, Murphy narrates an original story, "Aftermath," that takes place an hour or two after that novel ended.
I never thought the TV show ever did justice to Harry Dresden. But, no matter what happens after Changes, Jim Butcher brings my favorite wizard back to life in these stories from the Dresden Files, Side Jobs.
There's a reason December isn't a big publishing month. It's hard to find enough time to read. I do have a stack of Christmas books, but they're all November releases. In fact, I only have four December releases at home. So, I'll combine the treasures in my closet with December's forthcoming books. Let me know if I missed a December title you're waiting to read!
I'll start with the four books in my closet. Bedeviled Eggs is the latest Cackleberry Club Mystery by Laura Childs. The three widows who own the Cackleberry Club cafe are getting ready for Halloween, but somebody is already playing nasty tricks. There's a murderer running loose in Kindred, and Suzanne, Toni, and Petra have to "sniff out one bad egg."
Melissa Ford is the award-winning author of the blog, Stirrup Queens. Now, she turns to fiction with Life from Scratch, about a woman who teaches herself to cook after a painful divorce. There are a few complications when she starts to blog about life, lost love, and fried eggs.
I seldom read extremely graphic crime fiction, but I make an exception for Leighton Gage's Chief Inspector Mario Silva books. Gage shows us the violent side of Brazil in these police procedurals. In Every Bitter Thing, Silva is called in to investigate when the son of Venezuela's Foreign Minister is found dead in his apartment in Brasilia. But, there's more than one death. There's a chain of victims, all passengers on a flight from Miami to Brazil.
Libby Fischer Hellmann's Set the Night on Fire takes readers back to the turbulent days of Chicago in the 1960s. Lila Hilliard doesn't understand why someone is trying to kill her. Her family home goes up in flames, with her father and brother trapped inside. She's threatened and attacked by a man on a motorcycle. As she tries to discover who would want to kill her, she uncovers information about her father's past in Chicago during the late 1960s.
And, outside of the books in my closet, I only see three other December releases to mention. Tami Hoag's Secrets to the Grave is the sequel to Deeper Than the Dead. Everyone knew of artist Marissa Fordham, but no one really knew her. When she's found murdered, it's up to Sheriff's Detective Tony Mendez to solve the case while protecting her daughter from a killer. He calls on teacher-turned- child advocate Anne Leone for help. But, it seems that Marissa Fordham never existed.
Stephen Hunter brings back Marine Corps Master Sniper Bob Lee Swagger in Dead Zero. He's in Afghanistan hunting down an AWOL sniper determined to complete his last mission.
And, Dean Koontz has a companion to The Darkest Evening of the Year. A man and his Belgian shepherd are on a cross-country road trip, meeting all kinds of memorable characters in a suspenseful novel, What the Night Knows.
It's just a short list. I think the publishers know we're going to be busy in December. And, I already have a stack of a dozen Christmas books. So, what are you looking forward to in December?
I will always owe Mary Anna Evans a debt of gratitude. When I was Authors Chair of the Lee County Reading Festival, I had an author who had to back out for family reasons, and I needed a replacement author for two panels. Mary Anna's first book, Artifacts, wasn't even published yet. She only had an Advanced Reading Copy to bring along, but she agreed to appear on both panels. She made her first appearance as an author on a panel sitting between Randy Wayne White and Jonathon King. And, she was such a success that people told me afterwards they wanted me to let them know when Artifacts was out, because they loved the book.
Since much of the audience was made up of book club of retired librarians from Albuquerque, New Mexico the evening that Mary Anna Evans appeared at Poisoned Pen, Barbara Peters, owner of the store reminded everyone of the recognition that book went on to receive. Artifacts won the 2004 Benjamin Franklin Award for Mystery. It was also named a Best Adult Mystery with YA Appeal by VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates).
Mary Anna said her books have been popular in schools. She was a little leery about writing Effigies, set in Mississippi, where she was from, because she didn't know if she'd be welcomed back. But, she was met with open arms. She was invited to speak on the Choctaw reservation about how to use her books in the schools, and the tribe bought copies of Effigies for every kid in the school.
Evans' latest book, Strangers, is the sixth in her series, and she's working on the seventh. The books feature Faye Longchamp, an archaeologist. In the first book, she's an aspiring archaeologist and an accidental sleuth. The books are a blend of mystery, archaeology, romance and history. Barbara Peters said think of Elizabeth Peters' Vicky Bliss books.
Mary Anna came up with the idea of her first book, Artifacts, while she was driving back and forth from Mississippi on 1-10. She had the idea to write about an antebellum house on an island off the coast of Florida. Evans' degrees are in engineering and physics, and she likes the architecture of old houses. But, she had to decide who would live in that house. She also had two problems with writing about that house. First, Gone with the Wind had already been done. Second, it wasn't politically correct to write about plantations. But, Mary Anna solved that problem by making the owner a woman who descended from the slaves who built the house. Then, she decided she should also be a descendant from the master's love affair. So, how does she feel about the home? Does she hate it? Mary Anna decided she should be proud of it, since her ancestors built it.
Then, there's the woman's internal conflict that never goes away. How does she feel about herself? She didn't inherit money to go with the house, so she'll always be house poor. So, in the first book, Faye would dig for artifacts on her property, and sell them on the black market. She felt that was OK, because they were hers. But, then she crept onto land that wasn't hers, and dug for artifacts. Sooner or later, she was bound to uncover a dead body on that state land.
Up until Faye dug up that body, Evans didn't know if she was writing a mystery or an historical novel. But, then she decided the body would be that of a woman who was killed forty years earlier. So, the killer probably wasn't around, and might even be dead. If Faye went to the police, and told them she found a body, and it wasn't on her property, she might lose everything for digging there, and the killer might never be found. But, Faye wanted to find out who the woman was. At that point, Mary Anna knew she was writing a mystery.
In Artifacts, Faye Longchamp is a thirty-four-year-old college dropout who wants to be an archaeologist. She's unmarried, but wants a child. There's lots of room for character development with Faye. Evans has aged her one year per book. By the time of the latest book, Strangers, she now has a degree, is forty years old, married and eight months pregnant.
When Strangers opens, Faye and her husband have started an archaeological consulting firm, just in time for the economy to tank. So, they take a job doing cultural resources work in St. Augustine. The city has strict archaeological protections for any construction project. So, when the owners of a Bed & Breakfast want to build a swimming pool, they need an archaeological company to check out the land first.
When someone in the audience mentioned that Faye was forty and pregnant, Mary Anna said, her husband, Joe, is 6'6", and Faye if five foot. Joe is sensitive to the size difference, and he realizes the danger she's in at a pregnancy at her age. Evans deliberately made Faye eight months pregnant so she would be struggling to keep up at the job. But, Faye's not the type to give in. Others are worried, though, that they're putting her in danger.
Barbara mentioned that Faye's boyfriend, and eventual husband, had learning disabilities. Evans said he came from a family that didn't value education, so they didn't care that he had trouble reading. They were Indians in Florida.
Then Barbara said, here in Arizona, we don't think about Indians in Florida. We think of the books featuring them in New Mexico and Arizona, but not Florida. That led to the discussion of cities themselves, and the discussion of oldest cities. St. Augustine, founded in 1565, is the oldest European city in this country that has been continuously occupied. Evans' books always have an historical backstory. But, Strangers is set solely in one location, on the grounds of this house.
Evans uses different forms in each book to relate the historical backstory. Artifacts used diaries, while oral histories were used in the second. The third book used Choctaw folk tales, rooted in nature. There's a reason to bring these historical elements to the stories, and they all tie together in the last scenes. In Strangers, it's the journal of a priest that is used. He was present at the founding of St. Augustine.
Mary Anna said in the first month she reads and does research, trying to decide on the internal story. She found online the English translation of the actual journal of the priest who was there in St. Augustine in 1865. She doesn't like to mess with actual history, so she created two fictional priests, and one of them presents his viewpoint of the events surrounding the founding of the city. Faye finds the journal of the priest while she's on this project.
Mary Anna created a priest who was not prepared for the massacre at Matanzas. The name Matanzas even means "slaughters." But, where would a priest go when he wanted to leave? He moved in with the Indians. And, he actually presided over the end of the Timucua tribe in North America. But, Father Domingo does get his revenge.
The book also covers the history of the previous owners of the house that became the Bed & Breakfast. Those owners were wealthy members of society in the 1920s, and there was an unresolved murder on the property. Faye's not paid to look into it, but she can't help herself.
Barbara Peters said Mary Anna Evans' books are layered. They contain science, romance, mystery, the coming of age of Faye. Her mysteries are fun. And, Barbara said she reads so many mysteries, she enjoys it when an author plays with things, and changes them around. For instance, Agatha Christie's Murder of Roger Ackroyd contained an unreliable narrator. Readers had always been able to trust the narrator.
With Faye's background, Evans is able to change the settings of the books. The books have been set in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, back to Florida for book four and a Civil War reenactment. Peters proclaimed that setting perfect for a murder, mentioning Peter Lovesey's Skeleton Hill and its reenactment of a British Civil War battle. Book five in the Faye Longchamp series was set in New Orleans, and then Strangers is set in St. Augustine. Floodgates, the book set in New Orleans, contained the memoirs of a man who worked as an engineer in the city in the 1800s.
Evans said she can just take Faye and Joe, and sometimes a few friends, and move them to a new site. She's working on book seven right now. It was going to be set in Key West, and she even had an artist's residency to work on the book when the oil spill happened in Louisiana. And, she wondered how that would affect Key West. But, Mary Anna has family in New Orleans, and she did environmental work there herself. So, book seven will be set in Louisiana, dealing with the week between the oil explosion and the resulting spill. Evans worked with the people affected, and knows the affect on their way of life. And, she knows archaeological companies were called in to study the changes due to the oil spill. It was a race against time, and a project like that could sink a small company that doesn't have the manpower. The following book is planned to be set in Key West.
Mary Anna works with math and science teachers to use her books in the curriculum because she uses physics and geometry in her mysteries. Her geometry teacher was an educational consultant, and she started working with teachers. Now, Evans has written papers with a YA professor, Dr. Faith Wallace, and the two are writing a book, Mathematical Literacy in the Middle and Secondary Grades. She said she never thought her mysteries would lead to that.
Evans and Peters were kicking around ideas for the next title since Mary Anna mentioned "Plunder." She said that title works because pirates will be the backstory. She said one result of the oil spill is that Jean Lafitte's lair is gone. One book she used for research is called X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy. It says one reason pirates left little trace is that they didn't want to leave traces. They moved around a lot.
There are actually a couple meanings to the title Strangers. The Europeans were the ultimate strangers when they came to St. Augustine. And, when early tourists came to the city, they were called "strangers." In fact, "stranger rooms" were built so homeowners could offer hospitality, but not take tourists into their actual home. And, in the case of this book, there is the ghostly presence, strangers.
Mary Anna Evans' books are published by Poisoned Pen Press, and Peters recommended a few of their other authors to the visitors from Albuquerque. Steven Havill's Posadas County mysteries are set in New Mexico. They're a combination of village mystery and police procedural, set in a small border county. Donis Casey writes of Oklahoma, and the books start in 1907. Her first two titles are some of Peters' favorites, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, and Hornswoggled. Fred Ramsay, author of the Ike Schwartz books was there, so Barbara asked him to talk a little about his books. When she mentioned he was a retired clergyman, he said all clergy are fascinated with crime.
Ramsay summarized his books as village procedurals. They're set in Picketsville, Virginia, a town he made up in the Shenandoah Valley. Ike Schwartz is the sheriff of the town. He's also ex-CIA, and Jewish by birth. The first book deals with an art heist, and what do you do with the art once you steal it. Then they also include small town things. Once in a while, Ike leaves town, as in Choker, when he went to the eastern shore. Buffalo Room involves criminals who are dumb and dumber. Stranger Room involved a double locked room, and Ramsay had to do research for that one. He said he hates to do research. He just wants to write the story. In that book, there was a murder during the Civil War, and then a second one involving the same family and house in the twentieth century. His most recent book in that series, Eye of the Virgin was about icons. Ramsay wanted to write about them ever since he visited St. Petersburg. Before turning the program over for Mary Anna Evans' book signing, Peters concluded by mentioning Ramsay's book Predators, set in Botswana, and his standalone, Impulse, the one she thinks is his best.
As always, it was a pleasure to spend time with Mary Anna Evans. And, it's always a pleasure to spend an evening at The Poisoned Pen.
Congratulations to the winners of the zoo mysteries. Cindy D. from Mesa, AZ will received Betty Webb's The Koala of Death. Ann Littlewood's Did Not Survive will go to Holly G. from Pine Hill, NJ. I'll put the books in the mail tomorrow.
The books won't arrive in time for Halloween, but it's still appropriate to offer two books with spooky themes this week. I have an autographed ARC of Juliet Blackwell's A Cast-Off Coven to give away. Lily Ivory is the witch who runs a vintage-clothing store, Aunt Cora's Closet. When students at the San Francisco School of Fine Arts suspect the school is haunted, Lily searches for paranormal activity in exchange for a trunkful of clothes in a storage closet. But, Lily discovers a body, and spirits that are much worse than the students feared.
Or, you could enter to win Laura Child's Tragic Magic. Carmela Bertrand, owner of a scrapbooking shop, and her best friend, Ava, who owns Juju Voodoo, love their job of converting a New Orleans mansion into a haunted house in time for an upcoming horror convention. At least they love it untle the owner's body comes crashing through a tower window. Now, Carmela and Ava need to find a killer.
Which haunting book would you like to win, A Cast-Off Coven or Tragic Magic? You can enter to win both but I need separate entries. Email me at email@example.com. Your subject line should read either "Win A Cast-Off Coven" or "Win Tragic Magic." Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.
The contest will end Thursday, Nov. 4th at 6 p.m. PT. The winners will be selected by random number generator. I'll notify the winners and mail the books the next day. Good luck!
This is my niece, Elizabeth. I know this is an odd way to start a book review, but, let me explain. Some of you may recognize her from a few years ago when she challenged me, saying she could read more books than I could that year. She did beat me, by a couple books. Elizabeth is still a reader, but she has other interests as well. She was Junior Goat Princess this year at the fair, and this is her, and her pygmy goat, Fred. She also plays volleyball, is a cheerleader, and acts in community and school theater.
But, she's still a reader, and the last time I sent her mother a box of books, she asked if there was one for her. Not that time, but this book will be coming soon, Elizabeth. I hadn't read any of Meg Cabot's books in the Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls series until this one. Blast from the Past is book six, but you don't have to have read earlier ones to love Allie. Why does a girl who wants to be a veterinarian/actress, has two brothers, and lives in an older house within walking distance of a school remind me of Elizabeth?
Allie Finkle is excited about the class field trip. She's never ridden a bus because she walks to school. And, she's had bad luck, and missed every field trip, including the one the previous year at her other school, when her former best friend, Mary Kay Shiner had Allie's permission slip, but told the teacher she'd given it back to Allie.
But, this year, she's all set. She might not have the cell phone she wants, and her cat might be hiding in the wall, but she's going to ride a bus to Honeypot Prairie to visit a restored one-room schoolhouse and living history museum. At least Allie's excited until she finds out her class is paired up with her old school, and her partner for the day, her "buddy," is none other than Mary Kay Shiner.
I always mention I know I'm not the target audience when I review juvenile books. But, Meg Cabot is an exceptional author, whether she's writing for tweens, teens or adults. Her books are always fun, with humor, and, usually lessons for the reader. Since Allie Finkle herself has lists of rules for life, Cabot doesn't have to point out her lessons. I think Cabot's target audience of tween girls will enjoy Allie Finkle in Blast from the Past. So, this one is coming your way, Elizabeth.
A Deadly Row may be the first in a new mystery series, "A Mystery by the Numbers," but it's obvious that author Casey Mayes has written mysteries before. And, I won't give away any secrets, but if you think about cozy mysteries and North Carolina, then check the copyright page, it's probably no longer a secret as to who Casey Mayes is. No matter what name is used on this new series, though, it marks the introduction of two wonderful characters, Savannah Stone and her husband, Zach.
Savannah quit teaching math to create number and logic puzzles, a job she loves. And, she and Zach retired to a nice little place in the mountains of North Carolina. But, Zach wasn't as ready as Savannah to settle in. He was forced to retire from his job as police chief of Charlotte, after he was shot in the line of duty, and unable to work. He's too young to sit at home so he frequently takes jobs as a consultant when police departments need help. The chance to return to Charlotte and help in a murder investigation might have sounded interesting, but two people were killed, and it looks as if the mayor, the man who introduced Savannah and Jack, is the next target. But, when the police department hired Zach, they didn't know Savannah's skills would be just as useful.
The killer has sent notes about the crimes, and on the back of the notes are numbers that seem familiar to Savannah. And, when a picture of Savannah arrives, it only serves to make Zach and Savannah even more determined to investigate. Who could get close enough to take that picture, unless it was someone the couple already knew?
This first mystery has everything going for it. Savannah and Zach Stone are an attractive couple who work well together as sleuths. It's not far-fetched to have a professional in Zach, accompanied by his wife when he's on a consulting job. At the moment, the series is set in North Carolina, but the job of consultant presents great opportunities for cases in other locations. And, the side story about Savannah's family was an extra treat.
I hope A Deadly Row marks the start of a series that will flourish, allowing Savannah and Zach to take consulting jobs for years.
Texas Ranger Sarah Armstrong is always a conflicted woman. On the one hand, she's a law enforcement officer with an important job, determined to investigate crimes, and save people when necessary. On the other hand, she's a widow whose twelve-year-old daughter needs her mother. In The Killing Storm, the third book in Kathryn Casey's Sarah Armstrong series, Sarah is going to have to make a choice as a hurricane bears down on Houston.
How did Armstrong and her partner, Sergeant George "Buckshot" Fields end up in a field investigating the death of a champion bull, shot and left with some sort of design on his hide? It isn't the normal case for the Texas Rangers, but there's a great deal of money involved. The case leaves Sarah a little uneasy, but it doesn't command her attention as the story of a missing four-year-old boy does. FBI agent, David Garrity, is working the case of Joey Wagner, a little boy who disappeared while his mother talked on the phone. Garrity and Armstrong both find the mother's behavior odd. But, their primary concern is finding the missing child. And, they don't have much time.
As Hurricane Juanita bears down on Houston, Sarah would like to forget about the bulls who have been killed and marked, and concentrate on finding Joey. Then, a greater tragedy occurs, and the investigative team realizes the two cases have converged just as the storm is preparing to hit. And, once again Sarah Armstrong has to make choices.
I'm a big fan of Kathryn Casey's Sarah Armstrong books. She presents a modern woman with an important job, conflicted because of her role as a mother. Both of those roles are important in this series, and I respect the author for showing that. At the same time, Armstrong's cases are always interesting. And, this time, Sarah faced both of her roles in the face of The Killing Storm.
If archaeology mysteries interest you, have you tried Mary Anna Evans' books yet? Strangers is the sixth in the series to feature Faye Longchamp. Faye, who once only collected and sold artifacts from her Florida plantation home, has finished school, finished her Ph.D., and established a company with her husband. But, anyone who has read about Faye knows it's easy to uncover murder on an archaeological dig.
Evans' latest mystery is timely. She introduces Faye's new career, saying, "She and Joe had started their archaeological consulting business just in time for the economy to tank, taking with it the property development industry that fueled so much archaeological work." So, they were very lucky to find a job in St. Augustine, excavating the rear garden at Dunkirk Manor, a B & B. Unfortunately, Faye can do not much more than supervise, since she's seven-and-a-half months pregnant. But, she can probe the early history of the house.
The story of Dunkirk Manor only goes back to the 1920's, but the house is already supposed to be haunted. An ancestor of the present owner hosted Hollywood bigwigs and stars at parties at the house. One party ended in the murder of a young actress, but no one was ever found guilty. As Faye's team uncovers a swimming pool from that era, a local librarian is hoping they uncover traces of murder. And, Faye herself makes a discovery of great importance, the journal of a priest who arrived in St. Augustine along with the soldiers who founded the city.
But, it's the disappearance of another young woman that causes the greatest disturbance at the house. When the owners' secretary disappears, leaving behind blood and a collection of priceless artifacts, a local police detective must rely on Faye's knowledge for help. He just doesn't realize the danger she's in. Even Joe, as protective as he is, has no idea what direction the danger will come from.
Two of these storylines are intertwined beautifully. The current disappearance, along with the actress' murder ninety years earlier, work together for a disturbing story. Unfortunately, the story of Father Domingo seems out of place. I found myself jarred out of the story each time his diary entries appeared, and I waited, unsuccessfully, for a link to the rest of the story. I'm sure I must have missed it, so I'm glad I'll have the change to see the author this week, and ask her about the connection.
I may have missed one connection, but I always learn so much from Mary Anna Evans' Faye Longchamp mysteries. Evans' skillfully uses archaeology as her own tool to tell us about forgotten history, and forgotten people. At the same time, she gives us a couple we've learned to care about, Faye Longchamp-Mantooth, and her husband, Joe. I hope they have a long history together in archaeological mysteries.
Sunday Salon provides the perfect opportunity to introduce debut authors. And, I can think of some journalists who have successfully written crime fiction. Michael Connelly, Brad Parks, and Hank Phillippi Ryan are names that immediately come to mind. I know there are dozens of others. Now, Todd Ritter has the opportunity to join their ranks with his mystery, Death Notice.
There had never been a murder in the quaint town of Perry Hollow, Pennsylvania. Police chief Kat Campbell knew the history of the mill town, since her grandparents met at the lumber mill, and her father was once the police chief. And, she recognized most of the residents of the small town. So, Kat was as shocked as everyone else when a trucker found a coffin at the edge of town, with a local farmer in it. The murder was horrible enough to call in the sheriff, who turned it over to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Criminal Investigation. As head of the task force, Nick Donnelly suspected the death was at the hands of a serial killer dubbed "The Betsy Ross Killer," due to his skill in using a needle and thread on his victims. But, even Nick wasn't prepared when Henry Goll walked in the door, with a warning. Goll wrote the obituaries for the local newspaper, but he had never received a fax that predicted a death before.
Donnelly's task force was expected to handle the investigation. However, Chief Campbell became a partner in the case when she insisted on protecting her town. She pointed out she knew the citizens. But, she couldn't protect everyone from a killer determined to spread terror. And, she and Donnelly reluctantly accepted Goll as part of their case when the killer seemed to target him to receive messages.
Ritter avoids rookie mistakes in this compelling mystery. Kat, Donnelly, and Goll are all fascinating characters with weaknesses that make them all the more interesting. Kat, with a special needs child, is particularly aware of her complex role as a single mother and a police chief. And, each time I thought I knew where the case was going, the author threw in a twist. Those twists made perfect sense at the end of this successful debut.
Since I often review cozy mysteries, I feel compelled to say some of the details in this book can be grisly. But, it's a well-written crime novel, riveting enough that I read it in one sitting. So, I'll put you on notice. Todd Ritter's Death Notice will be joining the ranks of other successful first novels by journalists turned mystery writer.
Lisa Genova's Still Alice is a novel you'll read with your heart. And, it will break your heart, but Alice Howland's story is so tragic, and so realistic, that it needs to be read. I'll thank the friend that recommended it to me. And, you won't regret picking it up on my recommendation. I promise.
As a speaker, Dr. Alice Howland was introduced as "The eminent William James Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Over the last twenty-five years, her distinguished career has produced many of the flagship touchstones in psycholinguistics." However, Alice Howland, at only fifty, lost a word in that speech she presented. She lost other things, but chalked it up to getting old and menopause. But, her youngest daughter, Lydia, noticed she repeated questions. Alice didn't panic though, until she couldn't find her way home from Harvard Square one day. Alice's husband, John, a scientist himself, didn't notice Alice's problems. But, Alice did, and she pushed her way into doctor appointments until she was diagnosed. Alice had early-onset Alzheimer's.
Lisa Genova's story of a woman with Alzheimer's is unusual because it tells the story from Alice's viewpoint. So many Alzheimer's stories deal with the elderly. Instead, we see a brilliant young woman, at the top of her profession, with three grown children and a successful husband, realize that someday she was going to lose her sense of Alice. And, in Alice's two-year journey, we watch her husband's denial, the uncertainty as to how to handle it, and the eventual loss of the Alice she thought she was. "Who was she if she wasn't a Harvard psychology professor?" Genova shows us a woman who knows what she's losing, and she recognizes it before her family does.
Lisa Genova holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University, and she combines her scientific background with an insight into the heart and mind of a woman who suffers from Alzheimer's. It's important to know that the National Alzheimer's Association endorsed the book.
I can't praise this novel highly enough, and I won't give more details. You should read this book to see Alzheimer's from the victim's point of view. Still Alice is unique because Genova shows that Alice, as she becomes, still embodies someone beautiful. She no longer knows her family, but she recognizes love. And, she herself embodies the comment her mother once made about butterflies. "Just because their lives were short didn't mean they were tragic."
Congratulations to the three people who won copies of Dewey's Nine Lives by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter. I'll be mailing the books today to Pearl E. from Albuquerque, NM, Shirley N. of Columbus, OH, and Linda B. from Bridgewater, VA. And, Emily G. from Canal Fulton, OH won the dog book collection from Hatchette Book Group. They'll be sending Emily's books.
In keeping with this month's accidental theme of animal books, this week I'm giving away autographed mysteries set in zoos. Ann Littlewood was just at Velma Teague, and signed a copy of her latest mystery, Did Not Survive. Set at Finley Memorial Zoo in Vancouver, Washington, it features Iris Oakley, pregnant and still recovering from her husband's murder. She's now a keeper for birds, but, on the way to clock in, she has to rescue her boss from being mauled to death by an elephant. Iris' friends select her to investigate when it seems there are a few people who might want to kill the man.
Betty Webb's The Koala of Death is a little lighter, with an eccentric group of characters. Gunn Landing Harbor is in California, where zookeeper Theodora "Teddy" Bently fishes the body of Koala Kate out of the harbor. Unfortunately, a number of the animal keepers at the Gunn Zoo are suspects in Kate's murder. But, Teddy has other problems as well, and she reluctantly agrees to appear on a weekly live TV show about the zoo animals in order to raise a little extra money. And, Teddy and the animals have a few escapades in the studio. Webb does a terrific job balancing the lightness of the TV show with the serious nature of murder.
So, which autographed zoo mystery would you like to win, The Koala of Death or Did Not Survive? You can enter to win both but I need separate entries. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your subject line should read either "Win The Koala of Death" or "Win Did Not Survive." Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.
The contest will end Thursday, Oct. 28th at 6 p.m. PT. The winners will be selected by random number generator. I'll notify the winners and mail the books the next day. Good luck!
If you're here looking this week's contest, I'm not here. It will be up tomorrow morning.
Busy, busy day. We got ready to open the library, and then I left for a city meeting today. Then, I went to a managers' meeting to practice for tonight's meeting. Back to my branch to do a television interview to run tonight. It's on the value of libraries to families. Had a great patron who talked about how important libraries are to her and her four kids. And, tonight I'm at the Main Library for a library board meeting. The managers are doing a presentation - A Day in the Life of Public Service Staff. If it's me, it's running around. It's a fun presentation, with great pictures.
So, I'm not here, and have no time for a book review tomorrow. I'll kick off a new contest and announce the winners of the Dewey's Nine Lives contest. So, stop by, enter to win the books, and I'll have a book review for you on Saturday. Promise!
Paul L. Gaus has been studying the Amish culture in Holmes County, Ohio for thirty years, and he has thirty years of stories to tell. It's too bad we only had forty minutes to hear the author of the Ohio Amish-Country mystery stories talk about his books.
Gaus was born and raised in Ohio, and he has lived in Wooster, Ohio, for the past thirty-three years with his wife, Madonna. His interest in fiction writing was a result of college classes he taught. His students examined a variety of American cultures, and he often took students to Holmes County on field trips. On the advice and encouragement of Tony Hillerman, he began working on mystery novels set among the Amish of Holmes County. His first book, Blood of the Prodigal, was published in June of 1999, followed by five more. However, the books are being republished by Plume, a division of Penguin Group (USA). The series will be title The Amish-Country Mysteries. Blood of the Prodigal, and Broken English have been released, with the others to follow, about once a month for the next four months.
Paul began by telling us if you want to meet the Amish in Holmes County, it's helpful to drive a sports car. He described the countryside as rolling hills, with hardwood forests and creeks. The Amish settled there because the land was similar to the farmland in Germany where they originated.
One fall day, Gaus drove his Miata convertible to Millersburg, the county seat of Holmes County. He parked at the courthouse, an old stone building reminiscent of the old Carnegie libraries. There's a red brick jail on the square, and a Civil War monument, common to small midwestern towns, and a patch of grass in front of the courthouse.
While he was parked, a small Amish man came over to his car. He was about sixty-years-old, dressed properly Amish with a blue denim outfit, a vest with hooks, not buttons, work boots, and a black felt hat. He glared at Gaus in his Miata, and then started making jokes, bad jokes. "How many horses are under the hood of that?" "How many oats do you need to feed your horses?" And, then he said he had a serious situation. "How about you driving me to Nashville?" Well, Gaus went to Holmes County to meet the Amish, and he thought the man only meant Nashville, Ohio. But, would he drive him to Nashville, Tennessee if that's where he wanted to go? He decided yes, but fortunately, it was Ohio.
The man managed to get into the low seat in the Miata, and they headed out on the black top country curvy country roads. When they went over a hill, and hit the straightaway, the man said, "Just so you'll know, I've always wanted to say I went 100 miles per hour."
Paul took Andy Weaver to a machine shop first. And, he went in, talked to the man, made an agreement, and shook hands. Once Andy was back in the car, he said to Gaus, "Fellow thinks he's hot stuff. Spray a little gravel when you pull out." It was like that all day. They went to a carpentry shop, and Andy went in, made his arrangements, and came out. They went to a leather shop, a wheel shop, a saw blades shop. It was 11:30 at night when Gaus dropped Weaver off at the bus depot.
Andy Weaver travels around on Greyhound buses. He buys broken down sawmills from Amish families, and has them hauled up through Holmes County. He stopped at all the shops, because the sawmills will go to all of those shops to be repaired on their way to Weaver's home in Minnesota. He makes a good living. By the time he gets back to Minnesota, the sawmills are all sitting on his lawn. He sells them to Amish families all over the country. So, he's rich, but he never even bought Gaus lunch. About 5:00, he did suggest to a family that they were hungry, so they did get an Amish cooked dinner at that house.
One day, clear out of the blue, Gaus answered the phone to hear Andy say, "How about if you drive me to West Virginia?" Andy Weaver was living a proper Old Amish lifestyle. He was in the sawmill business, and making a living. He was probably a millionaire. He couldn't farm anymore. He had divided his farm among his sons.
In Holmes County, Ohio, the land has disappeared, paved over, divided between sons. Taxes are too high, and the cost of farmland is steep. Young boys can't farm. Middle-aged men have taken jobs off farms. That's what will change the Amish society. Twenty-five years ago, they would have said all people were intended to live as peasant farmers. The Amish are set apart and cloistered from society. But, things are changing out in Holmes County. So, the Amish are moving to other states, looking for farmland, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa.
Asked about the Mennonites, Gaus said they're not the same, although they are similar. They both rose in the 16th and 17th century in Germany. In fact, the Amish are not the same. There are twenty-five different types of Amish congregations in Holmes County. The Amish try to be just like everyone else, so they're not considered prideful. They call us "High and Mighty," because we dress as individuals. To be truly Amish, they must submerge their identity into the identity of the congregation.
One summer day, Gaus parked the Miata on a ridge overlooking a pasture. The hay was fresh mowed. And, he was enjoying the view, when off in the distance he heard the annoying, growling sound of a weed-whacker. Then, he heard that noise go behind the barn below, then the next building, and then it curled behind him, over his head, and swooped, and landed in front of him. It was a radio-controlled airplane. Down below was a ten-year-old boy, dressed in proper Amish clothing. He waved the control box at Gaus to show he was the one who buzzed the car with the airplane.
When Paul went down to that farm, he found something peculiar at the driveway. When he drove into the driveway, it broke the plane of an infrared beam, and down in the shop, a man knew to come out. He was not farming, either. Jonas had divided his lands for his sons. He drives a buggy. He's Old Amish, and he's not going against his Bishop's wishes.
Jonas' first job off the farm had been doing electrical wiring in RVs in Indiana. He became interested in electricity, and took correspondence courses to learn. He studied electric circuits, passed that, and then studied electronics. He continued to study, microelectronics, computer chips, all of it through the mail. Now, he installs high-security system in English (non-Amish) homes. In fact, Gaus had him put a system in his house. So, Jonas goes all over the Midwest to install those systems. He has a Buick station wagon and a chauffeur to drive it. The chauffeur owns the car, and drives, because Jonas isn't allowed to drive.
P.L. Gaus has been traveling Holmes County, Ohio for thirty years, studying how and why the Amish live the way they do. So, he puts as much as he can about the Amish in his mysteries. The Amish are pacifists, in fact the most convincing pacifists. So, Gaus made a bargain with his readers that it was not going to be Amish people who committed murder in his books.
The books feature three men, and the women in their lives. There's Michael Branden, a professor at a small college, and his wife, Caroline. There's the sheriff, and his wife, the Holmes County medical examiner. And, there's the pastor of a small church. So, Gaus' books are bout friendships in small towns in the Midwest.
And, he writes murder mysteries, because he likes them, and they say write what you like. And, mysteries provide a great opportunity to illuminate a culture. Tony Hillerman proved that with his mysteries about the Navajo. Gaus writes about how Amish people lives, and why they live that way. They have scriptural reasons for all of their choices. They don't have electricity, cars, insurance. They're exotic, although they're all plain as can be. The Amish are immune to worries of ordinary life that we ponder. They're set apart, and don't need us at all.
The first six books in the series were published by Ohio University Press, and they did fairly well in the Midwest. For an author starting out, it was a good experience. But, a Penguin editor has picked up the whole series for the Plume division. In six months, all six of the books will have been reprinted. The whole series will be available by February. Gaus has written a seventh book, Harmless as Doves. It opens with a confession to murder by an Amish twenty-year-old who confesses to his Bishop that he had just killed a man. If it looks as if Gaus broke faith with his readers by making an Amish man a killer, it's because in the last couple years there have been two murders by the Amish.
Paul told us there was an Amish man who borrowed the first book, Blood of the Prodigal, from a neighbor who had all of them. He read it, liked it, and asked to borrow the next one. He passed Broken English among his family. When he borrowed the third book, he told the neighbor the books were so authentic, and to think they were all true. When the neighbor told him they weren't true, he turned bright red, and went storming out. He angry that they weren't true. A few weeks later, he came back and apologized, but the Bishop in his district didn't permit them to read fiction. Gaus took it as a great compliment that the man found them that authentic.
P.L. Gaus has made friends among the Amish. One day, he walked down a steep gravel lane toward a red barn. He was worn out, and hot, and he heard a high voice call out, "Drink of cold spring water?" He heard it, but didn't see anyone. So, he continued on toward the barn, and heard it again, "Drink of cold spring water?" He went over to the barn, looked in and there was an Amish man, a dwarf. he had a goiter on his neck the size of a football. He was missing three fingers from an accident. Gaus took some of his college students to meet him. He was the happiest man Paul has ever known. Everything he did was right out of the Bible, including the way he dressed, with suspenders, no leather belt.
One of the Amish orders lives as close to the soil as possible. They've never been to a city. They have no bank accounts, shopping centers, pharmacies. They see cities as evil. They've dug in as peasant farmers.
There are other writers who tackle the Amish culture. Linda Castillo approaches the culture from the outside. Her character, a sheriff named Berkholder, is not particularly sympathetic to the Amish since she was part of that culture at one time. In her books, the sleuth comes from without to solve the crime.
But, Gaus' stories start in Amish society, and draw you through it, so you can think of the mystery as the Amish do. The seventh book in the series will be out this summer.
Asked about the practice of dividing land between the suns, Gaus said the Amish manage their estates in order to control the behavior of the children; "I have land, and, if you live a proper life, you might get some of it." It comes from the European tradition that land stays in the family, and pieces are given to the sons. With the lack of land, fathers don't have as much leverage with their estates.
Paul was asked if the Amish had any sort of government or leaders. He said they do have strict government policies. A Bishop is in charge of a congregation. Each congregation is entirely separate, ruled entirely by the Bishop. They rule everything from how men cut their hair to how many pleats must be in a dress. The Bishop also presides over religious aspects of life, baptisms, marriages. They interpret the scripture. They have authority over everything. Gaus said that's why he was careful to say Andy Weaver and Jonas were both in compliance with the wishes of their Bishop.
There are 250,000 Amish in North America, and they're growing at a rate three or four times that of the English population. A congregation usually consists of thirty families, including all the children. And, you can drive through the county and see one-room schoolhouses.
How are the Bishops selected? They're chosen by lot. The person who draws the short straw becomes the new Bishop. That's also based on scripture. In the Book of Acts, the Apostles needed to select a new twelfth Apostle after Judas' death. So, they drew lots.
But, they don't allow just anyone to become Bishop. The nominate the best men in the congregation, those that are seriously versed in scripture. They must have led a sober lifestyle. There are four or five Bibles put in a room, and there's a slip of paper in one Bible, at the passage about the Apostles drawing lots. The man who selects that Bible is Bishop for life.
Gaus knew a thirty-seven-year-old man who had just been elected Bishop. He asked Paul all kinds of questions about the English and sexuality. Some were so detailed it made Gaus blush. The man apologized for making him uncomfortable, but said the kids see videos, and all kinds of things, and ask questions. So, he had been looking for an English scoundrel to answer his questions since he didn't know how to answer the kids.
When someone in the audience expressed surprise that the kids had seen videos, Gaus said they all have cell phones under their pillows, although they're not supposed to. But, they have access to cell phones because many of the Amish are so wealthy. The tourist industry is vast and profitable in Holmes County. The Amish sell everything - quilts, dry goods, baskets, desks, and other furniture. Money runs in an underground economy. It's not reported. It's all cash, never in the bank. The Amish have money. They don't vote. They do pay property taxes. But, they don't pay social security taxes, and, if they don't have to, don't pay income taxes.
Asked whether the intermarriage caused any problems with disabilities, Gaus said there are a number of genetic problems. There are hundreds of dwarfs in Holmes County. There are some disorders that are known only among the Amish. If you see gravestones, most are of children. Life is dangerous on an Amish farm. They have ancient farm equipment.
One question was about marriages, and Paul said most are not arranged. But, the Bishops are aware of genetic danger, so young people are encouraged to travel to far-flung Amish communities in search of a spouse.
People don't leave the Amish community very often. Occasionally they are expelled, shunned, but not often. The Amish retain more than 90% of their children. They do answer census questions. They won't vote for President or sheriff, though, because those people have the power to take a life. And, remember the Amish are pacifists.
P.L. Gaus' appearance on his tour for the Ohio Amish-Country Mysteries, was one of our most successful recent Authors @ The Teague programs.
Just as a reminder, October is National Adopt-A-Dog Month. So, it's the perfect time to discuss Wendy Francisco's little book, GoD and DoG. And, the book is one of the books in the Hatchette Book Giveaway. You have two more days to enter that contest. Check my blog for October 7, if you'd like to enter the collection of five books.
This book first appeared on YouTube as a popular video and song by Francisco. Now, it's in book form, although I hope that the video is on the blog, so you can see it as well. (No promises.)
GoD and DoG may appear to be a simple little book in which Francisco does not say God and dogs are the same, but that dogs were made by God, and reflect his love. It's a book to think about, with the similarity as to the simplicity of love given by God and dogs. The book will take about two minutes to read, but the message will definitely stay with you. Francisco's book is a treasure to share with dog lovers of all ages.
Wendy Francisco's website is http://www.wendyfrancisco.com/. And, if the video doesn't show on the blog, check it out on YouTube. Just search for GoD and DoG.
GoD and DoG by Wendy Francisco. Center Street, Pub Date: 2010. ISBN 9781599953793 (hardcover), 48p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I requested the book from Hatchette since I'm giving away a copy of it.
It's always a pleasure to welcome an author I've never met before when they appear for Authors @ The Teague. I hadn't met Ann Littlewood, but her zoo mysteries are insightful glimpses behind the scenes. Everyone in the audience was looking forward to hearing from the author, who had worked for the Oregon Zoo for twelve years. Littlewood told us she had been a zookeeper there, and then did technical writing for twenty years. Once she retired, she had the chance to go back to the zoo, through her writing.
In Night Kill, Littlewood introduced her zookeeper main character. Iris Oakley abruptly became a widow in that book, and the story is about her attempt to find out how her husband died. Now, in the second book, Did Not Survive, Iris is six months along in her pregnancy, trying to get a grasp on her future life as a s single mother.
As the book opens, Iris had been working the late shift, volunteering. The book is set at the Finley Memorial Zoo in Vancouver, Washington, across the river from Portland. The zoo isn't real because, having her own zoo, Littlewood said more could go on in a mystery, and, she could add any animals she wanted.
Anyways, it's early morning, and Iris is on her way to punch in to do her real job, working with birds, when she hears a ruckus at the elephant barn. She never worked with elephants, but she could certainly check on them. When she arrived there, she found a body in the front stall with an angry elephant. The man is still alive, so Iris needs to get the elephant away from him. While working to move the elephant, she quickly realizes the man on the ground is her boss. That leads to a number of questions. What was he doing there so early in the morning? Why was he in there alone with an elephant? And, why did the old elephant attack?
Ann told us she didn't work with the elephants at the zoo, but she had been pregnant twice while working there. That's why she knew Iris would need to wear a man's coveralls, the only thing big enough to fit. Littlewood said she worked as a nursery keeper, so she did have the chance to work with an elephant calf who was sick. She did have the chance to see an elephant upset. The elephant had lost her baby, and she was pacing, upset, when the zoo director went too close, and she slapped at him. Had he been hit, they would have been looking for a new director. So, Littlewood saw both sides of elephants. They do have a capacity for violence, and they do kill people when they're in the wild in India.
Littlewood had to do a great deal of research since she hadn't worked directly with elephants. She did all the web stuff, then talked to elephant managers at zoos. They're kind of gun-shy because they've been beat up by animal activists. But, Littlewood doesn't do a whitewash. She said some zoos are getting better at managing elephants.
Ann also took advantage of the opportunity to attend a conference of the American Association of Zookeepers in Seattle. She said, just as there's a pod of whales, a group of zookeepers are called, "A poverty of zookeepers." So, signs are posted, and that's how zookeepers pick up roommates. So, she signed up to room with Debbie and a zookeeper from India named Varma. So, Ann and Debbie arrived at their room, with two double beds and a trundle, and spent the evening getting to know each other, talking. They received a message that Varma was held up at customs and would be late. Very late that night, there was a knock at the door, and a man stood there, saying "I'm Varma. Is this my room." They said yes, pointed him to his trundle bed, and he flopped on it. The next day, they checked to make sure he was still breathing before leaving for the conference. When they did get to know him, they learned he was a field biologist researching Asisan elephants in India. On behalf of the government, he devised a checklist to evaluate elephant welfare. Littlewood felt fortunate to get to grill him about elephant behavior. She said the research for Did Not Survive was fun.
So, Littlewood gives us elephant behavior, and then, for a mystery, she hopes she provides a good puzzle that isn't too obvious. So far, the mystery and zoo people have liked the book.
Before reading from the first chapter of Did Not Survive, Ann mentioned she loved the cover of the book. She said Patrick Turner did the cover. He does a number of covers for Poisoned Pen Press, and won an award for the cover of Night Kill. Then, she did a short reading.
Afterward, she said she's sharing the world of the zoo with readers. That's what she likes about mysteries, the opportunity to explore a new world, whether it's a zoo, a bookstore, or a cheeseshop.
Asked if she writes everyday, she told us she hates that question. She doesn't do what everyone says. She just can't get up at 4 in the morning, and write first thing every day. She told her sister-in-law that, a woman who is a true artist. And, she went on a wonderful tirade. She said that's what men do, getting up and working first thing, and working straight through, because they have wives. But, women have kids, errands and appointments. They work in bursts. And, that's how Littlewood works, in bursts. And, then an author has to go promote. You have to go to conventions such as Bouchercon, write guest blogs, write your own blog. Then, you don't have much time to write.
When asked if there would be a book every year, Ann said more like every other year. It took her five years to write Night Kill, then nine months for Did Not Survive. She told us she didn't think she could do better than nine months.
She told us she thinks she has picked her animals for the next book, parrots and snakes. The reptile people have been asking her to do snakes, saying they need the PR. But, everybody loves parrots, since they're so beautiful. Littlewood said she tries to bring real world issues to her books. Parrots and reptiles are both victims of smuggling.
Littlewood said she's been a lifelong conservationist, and the royalties for Did Not Survive go to conservation.
When she was reminded that one question was about zoo politics, Ann said there's always tension in zoos. They need corporate donors, money, and people through the gates. They need to expand the animal space. The bar keeps rising for zoos. Animals are expensive. The food budget is enormous. Animal people don't care about the money issues; they just want their own exhibit to be great. They want the best of everything for their animals. Some of the tension comes from conflicts. Why spend money on a shiny new cafe when the zebra has crappy fields?
Zoos have gotten better. Accredited zoos are required to have strong educational components. And, they have to have strong research programs. Zoo research is fun for the animals. When the zookeepers need them to do something, they give them treats. When they want to get blood, or have them open their mouths to check teeth, they get treats. It's wonderful training.
But, the wild has not gotten better. Think of Africa has the wild, wild west. The prairie grass is gone, plowed under. That's happening in Africa and Asia. It may have been true at one time that humans and animals could live together, but it's no longer true as humans take over animal land. We need to protect the animals.
Zoos have species survival plans. Their breeding programs may save endangered species, and build self-sustaining populations. They also support institute conservation, trying to look after habitats. For instance, in order to keep rhinos alive, they need to keep poachers at bay.
Ann Littlewood ended by saying if anyone was interested in supporting conservation organizations, there are links on her website, http://www.annlittlewood.com/.
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.
1, 2, 3 ... By the Sea: A Counting Book
Book: 1, 2, 3 ... By the Sea: A Counting Book Author: Dianne Moritz Illustrator: Hazel Mitchell Pages: 36 Age Range: 3-6 1, 2, 3 ... By the Sea is a nice lit...
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.