Saturday, March 31, 2012

Road Trip with Mom

I'm on vacation this week, enjoying my mother's visit.

Mom & I are back home after a trip to San Diego and back to visit a friend. Great road trip, six hours there on Thursday, and six hours back on Friday.

Stopped at the McDonald's in Gila Bend on the way there and back that must be just about the busiest McDonald's in the country. Perfect location at the intersection of two major routes. We took turns going in, so I took pictures outside while I waited for Mom. I told her they were road trip pictures.



This isn't the best picture of the sand dunes west of Yuma, but they were interesting to see. Even before getting to them, and knowing they were the dunes, we could see the color of the landscape change. Then, when we were across from them, we could see the dune buggies gong up and down.



The best part of the trip, of course, was seeing Nancy, and her daughter, Mary, and son, Colin. Nancy was the very first person to see me after I was born, except for my parents, so she's known me longer than anyone in my whole life, except my mother. I always love visiting with her. She tells stories I never knew about my father, and stories about me when I was little. And, I know I hadn't seen Mary and Colin in over forty-five years. Even so, it felt as if Mary and I had seen each other just last week. She and Nancy gave us a driving tour of San Diego. Then we headed off to meet Colin for dinner.

We met Colin at The Grande Del Mar, a gorgeous resort hotel.



And, dinner was at Amaya, one of the two restaurants in the hotel. 



It was a perfect evening with friends we hadn't seen in years. No, we didn't stay at the Grande Del Mar. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express with a terrific breakfast Friday morning before we headed home.

Our road trip was everything I wanted, time to spend with Mom, a fun trip, and a visit with Nancy. The added bonus was the chance to visit with Mary and Colin. Perfect trip.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Pamela Samuels Young, Guest Blogger

Scoundrels: Tales of Greed, Murder, and Financial Crimes is due out in late March from Down & Out Books. It's an edgy collection of short crime stories about financial corruption and greed. Crime writer Gary Phillips edited the collection.

Pamela Samuels Young is one of the authors of a story in this collection, Easy Money. The author of legal thrillers is also a lawyer. She agreed to do a guest blog for me, and talks about finding time to write while still working as a lawyer.

Thank you, Pamela.

                   Pursue Your Passion Despite Your Day Job                     
by Pamela Samuels Young

I’m often asked how I’ve managed to write four novels while still practicing law. Simply put, writing is my passion. I love creating characters like the ones in my short story Easy Money, featured in the anthology Scoundrels: Tales of Greed, Murder and Financial Crimes. Having a passion, however, doesn’t mean that it’s easy to find time to pursue it. Balancing a demanding day job, my family life and my writing career have required lots of sacrifice and hard work.

Do you have a passion? Whether your dream is to write a novel, start your own business or go back to school to learn a new skill, you can make it happen. Here are some tips that will help you begin your journey.

1. Find Time Where You Least Expect It.
I wrote my first novel by rising at four in the morning to write for a couple of hours before getting ready for work. It meant giving up a few hours’ sleep, but it was well worth it. The next time you’re taking a walk, use the time to mull over the plot for that book you’ve wanted to write. Instead of listening to your favorite CD during your morning commute, use the time to listen to a book on tape related to your passion. I work out my best plot twists while stuck in traffic. Your lunch break can also be put to good use. With your family’s support, you might even find an evening or two to run off to your local library or a nearby Starbucks for some passion-planning time. Even if it’s only an hour a week, use it.

2. Don’t Reinvent The Wheel
You may not realize it, but you have a multitude of resources all around you -- family, friends, colleagues, church members and even strangers. Don’t be afraid to request an informational interview from someone who has expertise in the area of your passion. People love to talk about themselves and many will be flattered that you want to ask them for advice. The Internet, of course, is an invaluable resource. You can enter a few words on Google and thousands of helpful articles will appear right before your eyes!

3. Join Professional Organizations
It’s a good idea to surround yourself with others who share your interests and passion. There are hundreds of professional organizations whose sole function is to help their members develop their creative talents and realize their business goals. I belong to Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America.  These groups have been very instrumental in my success as writer. I’m not always able to make the meetings, but when I do, I always learn something new and make great contacts. Most organizations also have online resources that can help you further your goals.  No matter what your passion, there’s bound to be a networking group you can join.

4. Understand That It Won’t Happen Overnight
Unfortunately, achieving success in your passion won’t happen overnight. I naively assumed that after releasing my first novel in 2006, Oprah would call and the rest would be history.  LOL! Somehow, I’m still balancing both my legal practice and my passion: writing legal thrillers. The deadlines and time demands can sometimes be challenging, and when they are, I take a breather and do something to re-energize myself, like a long walk or day at the spa.

You have to make the decision to commit to your passion and just go for it. And don’t be surprised if you turn out to be your biggest obstacle. When that happens, just look your self-doubt squarely in the face and command it to go away.

Don’t just dream about pursuing your passion, make it happen!

Pamela Samuels Young is a Los Angeles attorney and the author of four legal thrillers. Her short story Easy Money, is featured in the anthology Scoundrels: Tales of Greed, Murder and Financial Crimes. Pamela’s fifth legal thriller, Attorney Client Privilege goes on sale in July 2012. To contact Pamela or to read an excerpt of her books, visit her website at www.pamelasamuelsyoung.com. 

And, if you liked to see a trailer for Scoundrels: Tales of Greed, Murder and Financial Crimes, check it out here - http://downandoutbooks.com/2012/03/08/scoundrels-the-trailer/

Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Arrivals

My Mom's here, so I don't have much reading time this week. Today is a new arrivals day.

I received Jefferson Bass' new book, The Inquisitor's Key (HarperCollins), from his publicist. It's a new Dr. Bill Brockton thriller, involving the case of the millennium. Has his assistant really uncovered a stone chest inscribed with the claim that the bones inside are those of Jesus of Nazareth. It's a claim that will shake the Vatican to its core.

St. Martin's sent ARCs of two debuts. The first is Sara Foster's Beneath the Shadows in which a young mother searches over Yorkshire's windswept moors for the truth behind her husband's mysterious disappearance. The other is Eleanor Kuhns' A Simple Murder, winner of the 2011 Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition, a historical novel about the mysterious murder of a young Shaker woman in 1796.

And, I bought two books at The Poisoned Pen the other night. Plunder is Mary Anna Evans' latest Faye Longchamp mystery, Faye and her husband, Joe Wolf Mantooth, are working in Louisiana researching archaeological sites soon to be flooded by oil. Once again, Evans combines Fayes personal and professional life in a story in which Faye can see that Louisiana is still being plundered.

Tina Whittle's Darker Than Any Shadow is the second Tai Randolph mystery. I've heard good things about this story that brings back Tai and corporate security agent Trey Seaver. It's a mystery that shows how deadly poetry can be.

I also received a copy of Karen Spears Zacharias' nonfiction book, A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder from the publicist. It's the story of a failure of an entire community to protect a three-year-old who was murdered.


Thanks for reading New Arrivals while I enjoy my mother's arrival.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Paul Byers, Guest Blogger

I'd like to welcome Paul Byers, author of Arctic Fire, as my guest blogger today. "Paul grew up in Oregon on the shores of the mighty and mysterious Columbia River, and spent endless hours daydreaming on the beach in front of his house, making up stories about the ships from exotic ports all over the world that steamed up the river – what secret cargo might they be carrying; did they harbor spies who were on dark and exciting missions?

"Later in adult life, he moved to another mysterious and provocative city – Las Vegas, just outside the famous Nellis Air Force base.  After work he would sit on his porch and watch the fighters take off and land, igniting his imagination with visions of secret missions and rich speculation about what could possibly be hidden at Area 51.

"After moving back to his native Pacific Northwest, Paul worked for the Navy and took every opportunity he could to speak with veterans from WWII to the Gulf War, listening to them swap stories and relate the experiences of a lifetime.

"So it is this combination of a passionate love of history, a vivid “what if” imagination, and a philosophy of life that boils down to the belief that – there are few things in life that a bigger hammer won’t fix – that led Paul to become a writer of exciting, fact-based action-thrillers.  His greatest joy is leaving his readers wondering where the facts end and the fiction begins."

Welcome, Paul, and thank you.
*****

We watch our favorite television shows every week, not only because they may take us to exotic and faraway places but more importantly because of the characters we have grown to love (or hate.) We have time invested in them and we care and want to know what’s going to happen to them. We want to know what makes them tick, and so it is with characters in a book.
Gabriel Pike is the hero of Arctic Fire. He is a common man who suddenly finds himself thrust into circumstances he could never have imagined. While Pike may be struggling to save the world, he is also struggling just to understand his world like we are ours. Below are excerpts from Arctic Fire and some of Pike’s philosophies and thoughts on how he sees the world and his take on life.

Mysteries of life
With steely-eyed determination he took off the little straw and prepared to try and poke it through the tiny serving hole. He could pilot a fighter jet, decipher blueprints that would drive DaVinci mad and balance his checkbook at the end of the month, yet there were two things in life he couldn’t do: figure out what made women tick, and how to put the straw in a juice pouch without spilling it all over himself.

My jet is bigger than your jet

Pike brought the Clipper around for another pass, only this time he came in low and fast. He skimmed over the desert floor at about 500 feet and pushed the airspeed up to 400 knots. Every eye on the ground was watching as he roared by. Pike smiled to himself; this was one of those times when it was good to have your own jet. A couple of the football players raised their helmets and cheered as he went by while several of the cheerleaders shook their pompoms and did a quick cheer. As he streaked by the two drivers gave him a wave and he returned it with a quick salute and waggle of his wings. He smiled as he did a quick snap roll and then pulled up and out. Tom Cruise, eat your heart out.

Thinking outside the box

There were only a few minutes before they would reach the kids; he had to do something, but what? If he were in his car, he would have hit the steering wheel out of frustration, since there was no wheel; he did the next best thing and slammed his fist against the side of his canopy. He pulled back up to 5000 feet and swung back to the north, towards the buses. Time was running out, and he still didn’t have any ideas of what he was going to do and he could only hit his canopy so many times. What could he do? It’s not like he could dive down and strafe the bad guys…or could he?

Facing your fears

Stunned with more fear than a junior high boy asking a girl out on his first date, Pike suddenly realized that he was the big shot they were waiting for. For a brief moment he thought about slamming his canopy shut and shoving the throttle to full military power and getting the hell out of Dodge.

Life of the party

Jimmy looked at Pike, sizing him up and deciding how to answer. “You’re pretty observant sir. Are you a cop?”
Pike smiled. “No, I’m an engineer. The devil is in the details as they say. If you miss something, you lose out on a big tip; if I miss something, people could die.”
“I bet you’re a lot of fun at parties.”
Pike chuckled, “Yeah, I tend to get a little over dramatic at times, but at least I don’t have a pocket protector and wear my pants around my chest.”



Philosophy on life

Pike looked at Mallory and puffed up his chest a little and sported a small smirk.
“Don’t let it go to your head,” Mallory said, “you just got lucky this time.”
“True enough, but I’d rather be lucky than good.”
“Now, now children,” Cain interjected, “I can’t take you two anywhere.”

How to handle an angry crowd
“Mr. Cain is still on board, and in fact he sent me down here,” he lied. “You all know what a gracious host Mr. Cain is and while he can do a lot of things, he can’t control the weather, yet.” There was a small nervous chuckle or two but not the tension breaker he was hoping for. “So to make up for this inconvenience, Mr. Cain will credit everyone’s account in the casino for $500.00. He wants you to have fun and this is his way of making up for the bad weather.”

How to charm women.
“Fair enough.” Pike said as he watched the others pour in their ice. “You know how to catch a polar bear don’t you?”
Mallory looked at him and shook her head. “I know I shouldn’t ask, but how?”
“You kick him in the ice hole.”
Mallory groaned. “That was bad, I mean really bad. I hope your plan works better than your jokes.” Pike just looked at her and grinned.

Understanding women and yourself
Pike sat back down and began eating again. He had taken two bites of his steak when he realized that Tabatha was just looking at him, reading him like a book. “May I ask you a question Gabe?”
“Sure,” he answered almost hesitantly.
“Why do you look guilty of committing some great crime against humanity?”
“I do?”
“Yes, you do. Let me ask you another question. Is she your girlfriend?
“No.”
“Does she think she is?”
“No.”
“Do you think she is?”
“No.”
“Have you slept with her?”
“NO!”
“Do you feel guilty sitting here with me?”
Pike paused for a moment. “After the phone call… a little I guess.”
“Why?”
Pike shook his head and threw his hands up in the air. “That’s just it, I don’t know why. K.D. and I don’t have a past and you and I just met. So I have no reason whatsoever to feel guilty about anything.”
“And yet you do.”
“Yeah,” he replied, letting out a long sigh.

Taking your work home with you

“What have you got?” Cain asked, anxious to see what Pike thought was so important. “This,” he grinned, holding up two rolls of duct tape.
Cain looked in amazement. “Duct tape? You’re kidding me right? Do you always carry duct tape with you?”
Pike nodded his head. “I’m an engineer. I never leave home without it.

Turning the other cheek
Pike stood triumphantly over the guard like an ancient warrior over his vanquished foe. Pike’s chest heaved, adrenaline coursing through his body as he looked down at the guard. “And as a matter of fact, yes, I do think you’re stupid.” He said, then let out a muffled yell, then kicked the man in the side. He knew he shouldn’t have but it seemed like the thing to do at the time, his muscles protested at the kick, but it still felt good nonetheless.

Integrity
Pike was feeling good about himself as he walked down the hall. Professionally, his career was probably shot. He had just said no to the richest man in the world and he had no doubts that if he wanted to, Cain could ruin him. But he was also grateful to Cain for helping him realize that money can’t buy everything, especially integrity, self-esteem, self-respect, and a clear conscience knowing that he did the right thing for the right reason.

Gabriel Pike is a flawed, and if nothing else, an interesting man. He is the true definition of a hero; an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances, but he also doesn’t see himself as doing anything unusual or special and he would be the first one to tell you that he was just doing his job.

###

To learn more about, Paul, Arctic Fire and his other books, please visit him at his website at;

Arctic Fire by Paul Byers. Fortress Publications. 2011. ISBN 9780615504070 (paperback), 412p.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jacqueline Winspear at Royal Palms Resort

Barbara Peters from Poisoned Pen Bookstore gave me a wonderful opportunity yesterday when she allowed me to host Jacqueline Winspear, author of the award-winning Maisie Dobbs books. The program was advertised as "An Afternoon of Cheesecake and Crime," and it was held at T.Cook's at the Royal Palms Resort in Phoenix.

Royal Palms Resort

I'm afraid you're not going to get my normal summary today. Since I was the one who interviewed Jacqueline, both at the tea and at the Poisoned Pen last night, I didn't have the chance to take notes. Let me just say, Jacqueline is so knowledgeable about the years between the Great War and World War II that it's fascinating to listen to her. And when she talks about the changing roles of women in those years, you know that Maisie Dobbs is a woman of her times.

Since I can't summarize the programs, I'll have to link to my book review for Winspear's latest book, Elegy for Eddie. Jacqueline actually didn't want to spoil the book, so she didn't talk much about it. She did say, though, that one of the ideas for this book came from a story her father always told about a man he knew who was born in a brewery stable, and, from that beginning, always had a magical communication with horses. He was the basis for Eddie.



And, take a good look at the cover of Elegy for Eddie. There's a cart being drawn by a horse, alongside a car. Automobiles and horses were still side-by-side on the roads at the time of this story, and many people depended on their horses. The building on the front is one of the seats of power, Parliament, and that's important to the story as well, as is the Thames and the bridge. And, the horse? That's based on a picture of Jacqueline's horse, Oliver, a Friesian gelding.

I'll end with all of the information for Jacqueline's book and website, but you might want to check out her blog as well, www.MaisieDobbs.com. It's a fascinating place to learn about women who "lived, worked and served during the Great War, who navigated their way through the 1920's and '30s, then served again during the Second World War."

It was a true honor to have the opportunity to interview Jacqueline Winspear twice yesterday. Thank you, Jacqueline, and thank you, Barbara.


Jacqueline Winspear's website is www.jacquelinewinspear.com

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear. HarperCollins. 2012. ISBN 9780062049575 (hardcover), 355p.

Jacqueline Winspear and Lesa Holstine (photo by Chantelle Aimee Osman)

Monday, March 26, 2012

April Book Chat from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

OK, everyone! Great selection of books this month, along with appearances by Josh and Jinx.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs novels have always fit beautifully into the category, "Between the Wars." Her latest, Elegy for Eddie, not only fits that category, but it shows Maisie herself trapped between two lives. Just as England itself struggles to deal with changes in the world, Maisie is struggling to deal with changes in her own life.

Nothing illustrates Maisie's change in status more than the new case she takes on as an inquiry agent. Five men from Maisie's childhood, friends of her father, showed up to ask her to look into a death ruled a "regrettable accident." Maisie remembered Eddie Pettit, who was about ten years older than her, as a little slow, but a gentle, innocent man who seemed to have a magical gift with horses. Maisie's father once worked in Lambeth in the market with those costermongers, and they tried to help when her mother was ill. Now, it's Maisie's turn to try to help those men and Eddie's mother find answers to his death.

Eddie was killed at Bookhams Printers in what appeared to be an industrial accident. But, when Maisie visited the factory, she uncovered rumors that Eddie ran into a bully, a man who always hated him. And, it wasn't long before her probing caused a second tragic accident. She's determined to find answers, even as the case takes her into the homes of the class she now travels in as a wealthy woman and the girlfriend of Viscount James Compton. How much does the wealthy newspaperman who owns Bookhams know about Eddie's death? Maisie's questions involve newspapers, Winston Churchill, her friend Priscilla's husband, and even James himself.

Maisie Dobbs finds herself in a difficult stage in life, as well as in a difficult case. She's caught between her past, as a child of the working class, and her present lifestyle, as a wealthy property owner attending parties with the rich and influential. And, despite her love for James, she finds her life with him suffocating at times. It takes a couple shrewd friends to warn her that she might want to analyze herself and her life.

It's 1933. Germany and Hitler are on the rise. It's a situation already changing England, although war is in the distant future. Maisie's case, the story of an innocent man, is the story of innocent people swept up in forces beyond their control.  And, Maisie herself, trying to control people and events in her own life, sees how that can lead to tragedy. Changes are coming for Maisie Dobbs, for England, for Europe. The investigation of Eddie Pettit's death forces Maisie to reevaluate her own life, and her treatment of the people in her life. Winspear asks ethical questions of her character, and her readers. Elegy for Eddie is a powerful story of a character and a world caught up in change. Winspear is clever in her juxtaposition of Maisie's life and need for control, and the situation in England. Who should have the power to decide how people's lives are going to change? It's a question that leaves Maisie Dobbs, and the reader, with no easy answers.

Jacqueline Winspear's website is www.jacquelinewinspear.com

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear. HarperCollins. 2012. ISBN 9780062049575 (hardcover), 352p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I requested a copy of the book from the publisher.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dolled Up for Murder by Jane K. Cleland

It's been so satisfying to watch the growth of Jane K. Cleland's character, Josie Prescott, over the course of the Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series. It's also been fascinating to watch the growth of the author herself. Dolled Up for Murder, the seventh in the series, is beautifully written. As usual, the book offers details about antiques, an intriguing mystery, and the return of favorite characters. And, for all the readers who know my pet peeve about amateur sleuths, Josie is my kind of character. She works with the police, not against them.

Over the course of the series, Josie has shown how ethical she is. So, when Alice Michaels wants to buy the entire doll collection from the Farmington estate, Josie hesitates. It's been all over the news that Alice, owner and founder of a financial advisory firm, is about to be indicted for operating a Ponzi scheme. And, Josie already refused to buy a collection from Alice's CEO, knowing she could be in trouble if she bought it. So, Josie only takes a deposit from Alice. The two women are in the parking lot of Prescott's Antiques & Auctions when someone starts shooting. Despite Josie's cries of warning, Alice stands there, and is killed.

Once she gets over her fear, and talks to the police chief, Ellis Hunter, Josie is enraged. "No way was it okay to shoot someone on my property and get away with it." But, things get worse when Eric, Josie's facilities manager, is kidnapped after picking up more dolls from the Farmington house. Josie learns about it when Ellis calls her to the scene where her van was discovered, abandoned. She readily agrees to work with the police. "Kidnapping Eric was a personal affront, a slap in my face. You don't mess with my family and get away with it."

There must be something special about those dolls. Were they the cause of Alice's murder, or was it her financial dealings? The dolls must have been behind Eric's kidnapping because the call from the kidnapper only asks for one thing, the rest of the doll collection. Josie's willing to put herself in danger to ensure Eric's release.

Cleland's books have always been informative, filled with information about antiques and collectibles. But, Josie has become a much more attractive character over the course of the series. She's grown from a lonely, sad figure who looked to her dead father for advice, to a strong woman surrounded by friends and people who love and respect her. And, she's an amateur sleuth who has acceptable reasons to get involved in cases.

If you've followed this series from the beginning, you'll recognize the changes in Josie. But, you'll also enjoy the return of her staff, Gretchen, Fred, Sasha, Cara, Eric, and the cat, Hank. If you haven't yet met the staff of Prescott's Antiques & Auctions, don't hesitate to start with Dolled Up for Murder. Jane K. Cleland skillfully gives you all the background you'll need to find your way into Josie Pescott's world of antiques and murder.

Jane K. Cleland's website is www.janecleland.net

Dolled Up for Murder by Jane K. Cleland. Minotaur Books. 2012. ISBN 9781250001849 (hardcover), 247p.

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

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wide Open by Deborah Coates

Deborah Coates' Wide Open is the best debut novel I've read this year. She brings the prairies of South Dakota vividly to life in a story dependent on atmosphere and weather. Her heroine is a strong, independent woman, a veteran of Afghanistan, determined to stand alone if she needs to against the trouble in her hometown. Oh, and she also sees ghosts.

Sergeant Hallie Michaels arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota's airport after a long flight, with only ten days of compassionate leave following her sister's death. She thought she might have left the ghost of Eddie Serrano behind, but she saw him, just before she saw the ghost of her sister, Dell. And, the friends that met her at the airport did their best to say they didn't believe her sister would have committed suicide, although her car was wrapped around a tree out on Seven Mile Creek. Hallie hadn't even known how her sister died, so she was angry and upset when the car had a flat, and the other two women seemed incapable of dealing with it. When Deputy Boyd Davies stopped to help, she took all her frustration out on him. Hallie knew she would have to handle all the arrangements since her father couldn't, but she didn't know she'd also have to deal with ghosts, and eventually her own investigation into Dell's death. And, she would also have to deal with Deputy Davies, who seemed to appear out of nowhere every time she turned around.

As Hallie dug into Dell's life, she uncovered a story of a flourishing community that was also dealing with unusual weather, a period of lightning strikes and unexpected storms. Dell had worked for a company called Uka-Weber, encouraging local residents to invest in the company that was bringing wind turbines and weather equipment to the prairie. Hallie only had those ten days to find answers, and all of her questions seemed to stir up trouble, leading back again and again to Uka-Weber. And, as she searched for the truth, more ghosts of young women showed up, following Hallie. She was haunted by Deputy Davies almost as much as she was haunted by the ghosts. And, she didn't know if Davies or the ghosts would actually help her if she had to face down someone who was disturbing the atmosphere.

Wide Open introduces two fascinating characters in Hallie Michaels and  Boyd Davies, troubled, gritty, determined people. And, Coates tantalizes readers with the possibility of additional stories to come. The two characters, the ghostly storyline, and the unusual treatment of weather combine for an intriguing, riveting novel. If you liked Melissa Marr's Graveminder, you might want to try Wide Open. It's another story of ordinary people with extraordinary abilities. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates the combination of mystery and fantasy. It's a winner.

Wide Open by Deborah Coates. TOR. 2012. ISBN 9780765328984  (hardcover), 304p.

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

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Winners of the Latest Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Avery Aames' Cheese Shop mysteries will go to Martha C. of Glendale, AZ. Sue M. from Girard, PA will receive the Hannah Reed's Queen Bee mysteries. I'll put them in the mail tomorrow.

That was the last contest for a couple weeks. Next week, I'll be in San Diego, and the following Thursday evening I'll be hosting Brad Parks at the Poisoned Pen. Watch the blog then on Thursday, April 12th for the next contest.

Thanks for reading with me!

Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott with Sam Lamott

Anne Lamott's books always leave me awestruck. How can anyone be so open and honest about their own failings? Lamott relates all her weaknesses, rants and questions herself and God, and has a deep personal faith. Now, she and her son, Sam, the subject of her book, Operating Instructions, join forces to write Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son. And, now I'm in awe of the wisdom of that boy I've been reading about in her earlier books, a nineteen-year-old who became a father, and has the burden, and the gift, of a son in his own life.

Most of the writing is Anne's as she tells how she reacts, first to the news that her son, Sam, and his girlfriend, Amy, are going to have a baby, then, to the first year in Jax' life. But, Anne also interviews Sam to get his reactions to this hectic year, as he struggles with school and fatherhood and his relationship with Amy. Both Lamotts have one thing in common, though. They love Jax, and they enjoy watching him grow. Sam says he watched him grow from a speck.

Honestly? You're either a fan of Lamott's writing, or it won't move you at all. Some Assembly Required is a typical Anne Lamott book. She's loud and blustery, irreverent and funny, and prayerful and needy. In other words, she's a human being. And, now she's a grandmother, still unafraid to put her feelings down on paper, no matter how fearful she might be about day-to-day living. For those of us who are fans, it's one more chance to feel the grace of Lamott's life, to see in her words that we're all flawed people, doing our best.

Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son by Anne Lamott and Sam Lamott.  Riverhead Books. 2012. ISBN 9781594488412 (hardcover), 288p.

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan

What can I say about this magnificent memoir? Donia Bijan's Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in An American Kitchen brings together family and cultural history and food in a beautifully written homage to her parents, but particularly her mother. Bijan, who graduated from the Cordon Bleu, and owned her own restaurant in San Francisco, said she is telling the story as she remembers it, "through the prism of food." Yes, the food is the theme that runs through the entire book, and there are thirty recipes, but it's her mother's spirit and heart that carry the reader through this book.

The book opens with Bijan packing up her mother's kitchen after her death. Her mother was a strong, spirited woman who grew up in Iran and was educated in England. She arrived in England at eighteen, knowing only two words in English. But, she returned to Tehran as a registered nurse and midwife. It was there she met her husband, an obstetrician who built Bijan Hospital in 1960. They ran the hospital together, lived on the property, and raised three daughters. Bijan celebrates the beauty of that life, and the luxury and freedom the family enjoyed under the forward-looking Shah. Her mother had strong political views and "Took on any establishment that did not give women a voice, and that was essentially every institution. In the early '70s, she won a seat in parliament, and fought to build schools, roads and clinics for her constituents."

In the summer of 1978, when Donia was fifteen, the family was on vacation in Majorca when the demonstrations against the monarchy began. They were told not to come home because they would have been executed. Donia's older sisters were already in college in the United States. Donia followed, to go to high school there, and a year later her parents moved to Fresno, California, where they had family and friends. It was a move that destroyed Donia's father, but further empowered her mother, who quickly adapted to life in the United States, including learning to cook Thanksgiving dinners and apple pies.

Donia Bijan tells this story using food an an ongoing theme. She was raised in a culture where food was cherished. Her father always selected local food when they traveled, and her mother celebrated all occasions and friendships with food. It was natural for her to want to cook, but even that was a move her father objected to, while her mother encouraged her in her dreams.

This is Donia Bijan's memoir, the story of her childhood in Iran, her life in the United States, and her culinary training in France. It's the story of an Iranian American learning to blend three cultures into her food and her life. But, it's also a tribute to her courageous mother, a woman who discovered her own independence in England, fiercely fought for other women in Iran, and arrived in America with little money, but her own passion for life. It's the story of a woman who fought for her children to live their dreams, even when it meant opposing her own husband.

 Bijan's descriptions of food and family are beautiful, laced with passion and love. Donia Bijan's Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in An American Kitchen is the story of two women who shared a love of food, courage when it came to their dreams, and a love of family. Family, dreams, strong women, wonderful food. It's a memoir to be savored.

Donia Bijan's website is www.doniabijan.com.

Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in An American Kitchen by Donia Bijan.  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2011. ISBN 9781565129573 (hardcover), 254p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library Book

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

New Arrivals

Up at 3:30 yesterday morning so I could write a blog for next week for my friend, Kaye Barley. Not her fault, but the ideas were rolling around in my head, and I couldn't sleep. Skipped lunch to work on cleaning my office, so I didn't even have that time to read yesterday. I'm reading a wonderful book, and I can't wait to share it with you, but I won't finish it until tonight. I certainly wasn't going to stay up to finish it after being up so early!

So, what are you getting today? Something I normally share on Facebook, the new arrivals in my mailbox at home, seven new books. I have to admit I'm most excited about Barbara Taylor Bradford's Letter from a Stranger since I requested it from St. Martin's. I hope it lives up to expectations! I also received Michael Lee West's A Teeny Bit of Trouble and two copies of the trade paperback of Julia Spencer-Fleming's One Was a Soldier, all from St. Martin's. From Soho Press, I have Jassy Mackenize's The Fallen and James McClure's The Blood of an Englishman. And, author Gary Buslik sent his novel of "International Intrigue, Pork-Crazed Termites, and Motherhood," Akhmed and the Atomic Matzo Balls. That one looks fun!

Ah, so many books, so little time. And, so little time that you'll have to wait until tomorrow for the next review. I promise it's a good book!

Monday, March 19, 2012

So Pretty It Hurts by Kate White

Think of an Agatha Christie-type mystery with Kate White's So Pretty It Hurts. She took a group of people, stuck them in a country house in the middle of a snow and sleet storm, and then someone died. And, crime reporter Bailey Weggins was there to get the story, just because she had a hissy fit over her boyfriend's absence.

Bailey's boyfriend, Beau Regan, was in Sedona on a job. When he called to say he might get back on Saturday, she didn't want to sit around waiting for him, and agreed to accompany a friend to a house party a couple hours north of the city. What she found was a self-absorbed group of people involved in the modeling and music industries, with many of them dependent on the whims of model Devon Barr. Then, she found herself "Being nearly snowbound with a bunch of totally wacky houseguests who liked to get sloshed or stoned, expose their boobs and hurl drinks across the table." And, even when one of the guests ends up dead, the others are still self-absorbed, crying about lost job opportunities, and complaining about being stranded in the house with a corpse.

For Bailey, it's an opportunity to report back to her boss at Buzz magazine, a gossip tabloid where she covers crime involving celebrities. Although her friend and co-worker, Jessie, feels as if she's in the midst of a horror movie, Bailey turns crime investigator, asking questions of the other guests. She's not so sure the death was an accident, considering conversations she overheard. When a key goes missing, someone scares the guests, and Bailey herself is pushed down the stairs, she thinks she might be on the right track. It's only when she gets back to the city, though, and finds herself in danger and her job on the line, that she realizes she might be a threat to one of the other guests from the weekend.

After thinking about it, I don't remember many likable characters in the Agatha Christie mysteries. I have to admit there were few likable people in So Pretty It Hurts. And, even Bailey Weggins, who could be so mature in her professional life, was immature when it came to her personal life. She admits that she had, "A rotten habit of biting off my nose to spite my face." It's her immature reaction, and her distrust of her boyfriend that places her at that houseparty.

Spoiled models and musicians aren't my favorite characters. But, I always appreciate a good mystery involving an isolated house and cast. And, White handles that beautifully, including an ironic twist that works well. Bailey even shows some emotional maturity at the end of the book. Perhaps this is White's way of forcing her series character to grow. So Pretty It Hurts puts a modern twist on the country-house murder, while moving Bailey Weggins on to a new stage in her life.

Kate White's website is www.katewhite.com

So Pretty It Hurts by Kate White. HarperCollins. 2012. ISBN 9780061576607 (hardcover), 317p.

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

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The 39 Clues: Cahillls vs. Vespers, Book 3: The Dead of Night by Peter Lerangis

It's been a while since I read one of the books in The 39 Clues series. Amy and Dan Cahill are past The 39 Clues now, caught up in a battle between the Cahills and Vespers. Book three in the new series is Peter Lerangis' The Dead of Night, another fast-paced adventure for readers nine to twelve.

Readers can catch up with them in Turkey, as they attempt to rescue Dan's best friend, Atticus Rosenbloom, a genius who is the last of the Guardians. Like the Cahills, the Guardians have fought the Vespers. Dan and Amy are Madrigals, the elite branch of the world's most powerful family, the Cahills. However, seven family members have been kidnapped, including their guardian, Nellie. In order to ransom them, Dan and Amy have had to perform tasks, many of the illegal, such as breaking into museums. They race around in response to orders from Vesper One, usually trying to beat the clock in order to keep their family members alive. Now, they're responsible for the safety of Atticus as well.

Younger readers will be caught up in the puzzles and history as the Cahills race around the world. Older readers will be intrigued by Amy's responsibility as head of the family, and the mystery involving Dan's messages from his father. Amy and Dan have always been there for each other, but Dan has often resented Amy's memories of their parents, memories he didn't share since he was so young when their parents were killed.

As always, this series is entertaining and educational, as well as suspenseful. Lerangis keeps the action and story moving quickly in The Dead of Night. It's a fun addition to the successful series.

The website for this series is www.the39clues.com

The Dead of Night, Book Three in The 39 Clues series, Cahills vs. Vespers by Peter Lerangis. Scholastic. 2012. ISBN 9780545298414 (hardcover), 190p.

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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Angelina's Bachelors by Brian O'Reilly

Brian O'Reilly wrote the story of Angelina's Bachelors while his wife, Virginia, created the recipes for this captivating "Novel with Food." I love "novels with food." They just seem to weave a spell of comfort, and this one is no exception.

Frank and Angelina D'Angelo live in a tight-knit Italian community in South Philly. Although they both work for a local contractor, Frank as a finishing carpenter and Angelina as the office manager, Angelina's true passion is cooking. So, she loves creating a special cake for the twenty-first birthday of Frank's niece, Tina. But, that cake never gets to the party because Frank has a heart attack in the middle of the night, with his last bite a taste of that cake.

Angelina is shattered after losing the love of her life. Fortunately, she has a wonderful mother-in-law,  Mamma Gia, a strong woman who helps her through the first days of grief. But, it's food that gets Angelina through the next days, as she slowly cooks herself through her grief. And, then Gia and Tina deliver all that food to the neighbors. When she learns that the contractor who employed her has lost his business, she doesn''t know what she's going to do. It takes a new man in the neighborhood to come up with the right proposal.

Basil Cupertino moved in with his sister just in time to enjoy the lasagna delivered to her. Since his sister wasn't the best cook in the world, he offered to pay Angelina to cook breakfast and dinner for him six days a week. It wasn't long before word spread, and Angelina found herself cooking for seven bachelors. O'Reilly manages something many other authors fail to do. He gives each of those bachelors a distinct personality, making them memorable characters. It's easy to tell them apart.


It's Angelina who is the star of this this book, though. She's a woman secure in the love of a good man, and defended fiercely by the Italian matriarchs in the community, particularly Gia. She's respected in the community, and that respect brings men of all ages to her dining room. And, it's respect for her, and for her food, that encourages those men to step up to help her when her life takes a couple more unexpected turns.

How can you go wrong with a novel with strong women, interesting bachelors, and marvelous foods? I'll admit, the recipes appear to be quite complex, but it's still fun to read about all that wonderful food. I was as impressed with Angelina's cooking as the bachelors were. Angelina's Bachelors is a delightful story, with characters you'll love, and food you'll wish you could sample. Instead, you'll just have to sample Brian O'Reilly's book.

*****
Brian O'Reilly was the creator and executive producer of Food Network's Dinner Impossible, and the co-author of two cookbooks.

Angelina's Bachelors by Brian O'Reilly. Galley Books. 2011. ISBN 9781451620566 (paperback), 359p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, March 16, 2012

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

I'm starting to gear up for my next brown bag luncheon, so I need to read some books outside the mystery genre. Rainbow Rowell's debut novel, Attachments, was perfect for the first one. The hardcover came out a year ago, but the paperback has just been released. It's funny and romantic with protagonists that are just nice people. Attachments is charming. I read it in one day because I just had to see how Rowell managed to bring the characters together.

After ten years or so in college, Lincoln O'Neill is back in Nebraska, living with his mother while he makes good money working in information technology at the Courier newspaper. It's August, 1999, and Lincoln has two jobs at the paper. He's working with a team to get the paper ready for the Y2K threat at the millenium. And, he has a job that makes him feel like a voyeur. He reads staff e-mail at night, the e-mail that has been flagged as inappropriate. Lincoln's supposed to be impartial in enforcing the rules. The newspaper was "probably the last newspaper in America to give its reporters Internet access," and they were afraid of what would happen.

Lincoln does just fine, except when it comes to the e-mail conversations between Beth Fremont, the movie reviewer, and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder. As the two women shared confidences about Beth's boyfriends, weddings, and Jennifer's husband and pregnancy, Lincoln found himself falling for Beth. He was never going to warn them, because he liked them. Lincoln is totally caught up in their lives, and he doesn't even know what they look like. Then, Beth, whose boyfriend is a rock guitarist, starts talking about "The Cute Guy" at the newspaper, Lincoln.

How can Lincoln ever introduce himself to Beth since he's been reading her e-mails?

Lincoln is actually the main character in Rowell's novel, as he tries to find his place in life. Lincoln, the nerd, the Dungeons & Dragons player who still lives at home at twenty-eight, has no real reason to move out, and to move on. Rowell deals beautifully with family dynamics between Lincoln, his mother and his married sister.
Lincoln is lucky in his choice of friends. He has his D&D friends, as well as a friend to go to concerts with, since he wants to see Beth's boyfriend.

And, the e-mail conversations between the two women are funny and touching. It's a true friendship as Beth sees Jennifer through some rocky patches. There's so much humor in their conversations including the obligatory tribute to Colin Firth that appears in so many women's novels now. I laughed out loud when their conversation dealt with censoring information about inseminating tigers.

Go back to 1999. Remember the fear of Y2K. It's only a small part of this book, but it helps set the timeframe for this enchanting story of nerds and friendship and romance. Rainbow Rowell's Attachments is a funny, warm debut novel. I can't wait to share it with friends.

Rainbow Rowell's website is http://www.rainbowrowell.com/

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Plume. 2012. ISBN 9780452297548 (paperback), 323p.

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Winners and Double Your Pleasure Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. PennyT. of Klamath Falls, OR will receive James W. Hall's Dead Last. The Body and the Blood by Michael Lister is going to Karen C. of Cleburne, TX. I'll put the books in the mail tomorrow.

This will be the last giveaway for a couple weeks, so I'm giving you the opportunity to double your pleasure. I'm giving away four books, two by each author. Let's start with Avery Aames' Cheese Shop mysteries. You could win both Lost and Fondue, and Clobbered by Camembert. Have you met Charlotte Bessette yet? She's the owner of the Cheese Shop in Providence, Ohio, a charming town in Amish Country. She cares so much for her friends and family that she finds herself caught up in murder investigations, trying to assist her friends.














Or, you could win the first two books in Hannah Reed's Queen Bee series. Buzz Off and Mind Your Own Beeswax feature Story Fischer, a beekeeper in the fictional small town of Moraine, Wisconsin. Time after time, Story's friends are caught up in sticky situations, and the beekeeper helps them out.













So which set of books would you like to win, the Cheese Shop mysteries or the Queen Bee books? Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject headings should read either "Win Cheese Shop" or "Win Queen Bee." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

This contest will end Thursday, March 22 at 6 PM PT. I'll select the winners using a random number generator. Good luck!

Diane Kelly, Guest Blogger

Today is March 15th. That means it's one month until taxes are due. What better day to invite Diane Kelly to do a guest post? Diane Kelly is the author of the Death and Taxes humorous mystery series. And, she has a few warnings for people who try to mess with the IRS. Thank you, Diane!




Hi, y’all!  Thanks to Lesa for inviting me here today.  I’m IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway, star of Diane Kelly’s hilarious Death and Taxes romantic mystery series.  Don’t let the fact that I work for the IRS scare you off.  I’m actually a nice person – except to those who try to cheat Uncle Sam and honest taxapayers like you and me.  Those folks better not mess with me.  I’m not known as the “Annie Oakley of the IRS” for nothing!  Yep, I’m a damn good shot.  I just wish I didn’t have so many opportunities to prove it.  You wouldn’t believe the paperwork that’s involved!

I’ve got two cats, Annie and Henry.  Annie’s a sweet little nervous thing, but Henry’s a big ol’ pompous puss.  They live with me in a two-story townhouse in the Uptown section of Dallas.  The place provides us a nice home and some tax deductions, though I could use a little more closet space.  Who couldn’t, right?  I love living in the big city now, dressing up and eating at fancy restaurants, though the tomboy who grew up shooting BB guns in the piney woods of east Texas still lives inside me and rears her head on occasion.    

In book #1, DEATH, TAXES, AND A FRENCH MANICURE, I team up with a female DEA agent to pursue a drug-dealing, tax-cheating ice cream truck driver.  Christina and I have a ball, dressing trashy and hanging out at a former crack house in an undercover sting.  I also go after a con artist running a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme.  How low does a man have to sink to rip off little old ladies?  What a chump!  And all the gunplay?  It’s hell on my manicure.  Good thing I’ve got my new boyfriend, Brett, to keep me distracted.  He’s a landscape architect with some awfully nice equipment and he definitely knows how to keep a girl’s bushes trimmed.  Wink-wink.

Things never seem to slow down!  Now, in DEATH, TAXES, AND A SKINNY NO-WHIP LATTE, my job has become even more dangerous.  My partner, Eddie, and I are after a sophisticated financier named Marcos Mendoza who has shady international connections.  A number of Mendoza’s business associates have turned up dead.  Coincidence?  I hardly think so.  But, heck, the FBI and Texas Rangers couldn’t get anything on the guy.  How am I supposed to find enough evidence to bring Mendoza in?  But I can’t just let the guy go on or the next murder will be on my head.  The guilt would be too much to bear!  To make matters worse, all of the creamy caramel lattes I’ve been drinking while keeping an eye on things have gone straight to my butt.  I’ll have to switch to skinny lattes from now on.  Is there any reason to go on?

I hope that you’ll come with my on my crime-fighting escapades.  Wishing you big tax refunds and a “latte” laughs!

*****
Thank you, Diane & Tara! And, we're all hoping for those big tax refunds! Good luck to both of you.

Diane Kelly's website is http://www.dianekelly.com/.

Death, Taxes, and a Skinny No-Whip Latte by Diane Kelly. St. Martin's Press. 2012. ISBN 9780312551278 (paperback), 336p.



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Play Nice by Gemma Halliday

Whew! I don't know what else to say about Gemma Halliday's Play Nice. I don't know when I read such a riveting story that kept me on the edge of my seat. Talk about adrenaline!

Anya Danielovich was an assassin in Yugoslavia. But, that was fifteen years earlier, another life, another name. She faked her death to escape that life. But, she can't ever rest and she moves from house to house, city to city, trying to hide in the United States as Anna Smith. She doesn't know how much longer she can stay at her San Francisco job for a non-profit animal shelter. She has a boxer named Lenny, and a wish for a normal life. But, "She'd never be able to outrun Anya." Even so, she never expected a deluge of bullets to hit the shelter.

Nick Dade is a hired gun. He's tracked his target, even spoke to her one night when her dog lunged at him in a laundromat. And, he's all set to kill her, when someone else attacks the shelter where she works. Instead of shooting her, Nick finds himself helping Anna Smith escape from some other killer. And, he's angry. Who else has tracked his target, and why are they trying to kill her?

Play Nice is the story of the uneasy partnership between two assassins on the run. They don't know who is after them. And, they certainly don't trust each other, because neither of them know how to trust someone else. But, Dade and Anna may have to team up if either of them hope to survive. And, along the way, they'll learn it's hard to escape the past.

Halliday's thriller is gripping. She created two characters that the reader truly cares about, even though they're assassins. And, for the many readers that care, I do have to say that no animals are killed in the course of this book. (I know some readers who won't read the book if they think Lenny doesn't survive.) Play Nice is fast-paced and suspenseful, but it also has a few elements of humor to relieve the tension. And, believe me, you'll need to have some relief from this nerve-wracking book. Kudos to Gemma Halliday for Play Nice, a terrific story.

Gemma Halliday's website is www.GemmaHalliday.com

Play Nice by Gemma Halliday. Minotaur Books. 2012. ISBN 9780312656072 (hardcover), 258p.

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rhys Bowen, Cara Black, and Libby Fischer Hellmann for Authors @ The Teague

What a wonderful afternoon! I had the chance to go to lunch with Rhys Bowen, Cara Black and Libby Fischer Hellmann before their appearance for Authors @ The Teague. And, we celebrated downtown Glendale. Libby and Cara wanted to go to Bitzee Mama's, across from the library. They said they always go there when they appear at Velma Teague. We followed it up with a trip to A Shot of Java, so Cara could have espresso. And, of course, I gave them the French mints from Cerreta Candy Company. All the authors who appear at Velma Teague get those.

Rhys Bowen, Cara Black and Libby Fischer Hellmann

And, we had a nice audience for the event, including a number of new people in attendance. After the introduction, Rhys Bowen started the program by saying she and Cara have a symbiotic relationship. They often tour together because they both have books out in March. And, they've had some unusual signings, including one at a nudist colony. Fortunately, it was a cold night, and most people came clothed, except for one man. He was a large bearded man who wore nothing but a little backpack, and paraded back and forth as the authors talked. Rhys assured us she could handle anything that might happen during the program.

Rhys said she and Cara also see the same things in the universe. Last year, Bowen's Molly Murphy book, Bless the Bride, came out, and it was set in New York's Chinatown. Cara's new book is set in a Parisian Chinatown. Rhys is anxious to see how the experiences compare.

In Bless the Bride set in early 20th century New York, the Chinese were excluded from society. They had no rights. And, they looked different. The men wore blue outfits, and had long pigtails, queues. They didn't want to cut their pigtails because they hoped to return to China. If they cut their pigtails, it was a sign of disrespect to the Emperor, and that meant instant beheading. But, the Chinese were also terrible gamblers, and gambled away their earnings. So they didn't have the money to return home.

Rhys said she's lucky to use the various environments of New York for her books. She can explore the deep dark parts of the city, such as opium dens, for one book. Then, she set this year's book in what she calls New York's Downton Abbey. The cottages in Newport, Rhode Island were actually summer palaces for families such as the Astors and Vanderbilts. They were fabulous homes, without many bedrooms. They enjoyed parties, but didn't want people to spend the night. Those mansions, used only for six weeks or so in the summer, are all along a spit of land in Newsport.

Because of a case, Molly and her new husband, Daniel Sullivan, were forced to cut their honeymoon short in Bless the Bride. Now, in Hush Now, Don't You Cry, a New York alderman lent them the guest cottage on his estate. But, Molly is always suspicious. Why is this politician being so nice to an ordinary policeman? Then they learn the rest of the man's family has been invited to spend the weekend at this house, usually only used in the summer. This newly built house, looking like an Irish castle, already has secrets.

Cara Black joked that she always follows Rhys. In her latest Aimée Leduc Investigations, Murder at the Lanterne Rouge, Aimée is finally back in the Marais. Marais, which means marsh in French, was once a swamp until it was drained for houses for the aristocrats. The fourth and third arrondissements are in the Marais. This book takes place in the third arrondissement, in the northeast part. It's set in the smallest and oldest Chinatown in Paris. Black was in Paris, and went down a narrow street, and came across a fourteenth century building. Then she heard Chinese, and the click of mahjong tiles. A mercantile group of Chinese live in just a few narrow streets there. They are entrepreneurs. Then, she heard a rumbling noise. What was behind that noise? Machines. People were working on machines in sweatshops at night, behind the front of luggage and wholesale jewelry shops.


Four years ago, Cara was meeting with a friend, a member of the intelligence branch of the police force in Paris. He made the comment, "No one dies in Chinatown." She asked him what he meant by that, and he said, "You're a writer. You figure it out." Why wouldn't people die in Chinatown? Because, to register a death, they have to have papers. Identity cards are passed around in Chinatown, so no one has papers.


And, of course, Black had to include the Knights Templar in this book because this was their area. One day she saw courtyard doors open, and she wandered in, as she often does. There were Polish workmen working in the courtyard, but there was also the base of a medieval tower, a Templar tower. Napoleon destroyed most of them because Marie Antoinette had been imprisoned in one before she was executed, and he didn't want the Royalists to rally around the towers. The only other thing Cara would say was love doesn't work out for poor René, Aimée's business partner.

Libby Fischer Hellman's forthcoming book, A Bitter Veil, is set in Iran. But, before writing that, she wrote two mystery series. One series features Ellie Foreman, a single mother. She said she also has a similarity to Rhys' books. One of the Ellie Foreman books takes place in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, called the Newport of the Midwest. In that book, she showed the contrast between the rich and those who serve. Libby loves to include historical elements in her books. Her book, Set the Night on Fire, is set in the late 60s. Even though many of us lived through the 60s, unfortunately, that's not considered history. It's a standalone thriller.

A Bitter Veil is another thriller. It features a young woman who graduated in 1978. She met a young Iranian engineering student while they were in school in Chicago, and they fell in love. They married and moved to Tehran. Unfortunately, they moved there just before the Shah was deposed and the rise of the Islamic Republic.

Hellmann did an enormous amount of research about the Iranian Revolution. She said the mystery community is very close and supportive. She put out the word that she was looking for Iranian-Americans who were there during the revolution, and within a few weeks, had contact information for five of them. One was a woman from Cara's book group. She had such an intriguing story that Libby used some of that in A Bitter Veil. She had her vet the manuscript to make sure it was right. Her publisher had it vetted again, and then they had someone check on the pronunciation to ensure it was right for the audio.

A Bitter Veil comes out next month in print, audio, and ebook. It takes place from 1978-80.

When Libby asked the others about research, Rhys answered first. Molly lives in New York City, which hasn't changed a lot since 1904. She selected her house in Greenwich Village deliberately. A professor at Fordham University contacted Rhys and said, "I'm living in Molly's house." He sent her pictures of the inside and out, which is just as Bowen pictured it.

Bowen said she received a gift once when she was there and came across a festival in that area. There were little booths, and cooking food. The booths were on both sides of the street, and the crowds were channeled in the middle. The sound bounced back from the tenement walls, and Rhys realized how loud the streets were, and that would have been just what it was like when Molly lived there. She saw a sign that said, "Freak Show. Come and See the Snake Woman - 50 cents." She used that in Oh Danny Boy. You can really experience Molly's world in New York.

She also told us Google Earth has been great for her to see where Molly would walk, and she can check back on the site. In addition, 1903 was the age of the Brownie camera. There are lots of photos of New York in 1900, and Rhys can go back and look at those photographs. Then, there is the New York Times for every day.

It's possible, though, to over-research. You can get consumed with getting it right while creating our own world. Rhys said she's one who reads a book, and notices if something is wrong. She loves Connie Willis, whose book, Blackout, is about the blitz. And, at one point, a landlady tells a character how much it will cost to use the phone. But, she used a coin that wasn't yet in use. Once she used the wrong monetary system, Bowen didn't trust anything else in the book.

Cara loves to do research. A photographer took photos in 1890 of the streets, and she wanted to see the medieval streets. The photos were taken at dawn when no one was there. But, the streets haven't changed, and it was like looking at the past and the present.

Cara Black's books are set in the 1990s, and the latest is set in 1998 when the money was still francs, and there was still smoking in cafes. When she does research, she wants to know what the big world events were. Who was visiting at the time? She also looks at the ads. In Murder at the Lanterne Rouge, the January sales are going on. It's shortly after Princess Diana's death, so the investigation is still going on. The World Cup will be in six months.

Libby said she was also lucky. The Iranian Revolution was well-covered with pictures. She had the chronology. A Bitter Veil is seen through the eyes of a young American woman. Hellmann watched the first speech Khomeini made after returning to Iran. She couldn't understand it, but then she realized her character, Anna, wouldn't have been able to understand it either. He started slowly and then built up to his denunciations of Americans.

Black said many of the Chinese came to France in 1912 from Wenzu province. The French boys were in the war, so the country needed workers. They imported them from China. Ho Chi Minh and Chou En Lai both worked in Paris. Young single men worked there, and then many returned home. There are four Chinatowns in Paris, and Black's book takes place in the smallest, oldest one.

Hellmann asked the others about writing characters. Are Molly and Aimée still the character they thought they'd be when they started writing about them?

Bowen started with Constable Evans. She liked the series, but he was just too polite. She wanted to write a feisty, first person female, a character a lot more like Rhys. She went to Ellis Island while trying to decide where to set Molly Murphy. She thought she knew what to expect, but she was overcome with emotion. And, her family were not immigrants. The walls seemed to be shouting at her. She felt great joy, and that people had escaped from great horrors.

In Murphy's Law, Molly accidentally kills the man, the son of the landowner, who was trying to rape her. She flees, taking another woman's name. But, when she gets to Ellis Island, there is a murder, and that name is the name of the prime suspect. When she set it in Manhattan, she thought I've just committed myself to doing research for every book for the rest of my life because she didn't know New York history. Hush Now, Don't You Cry is the eleventh book in the series. Molly is four years older, a little wiser. She just got married. She's still imprudent, though, and doesn't think things through.

Cara said she isn't French. But, she grew up in a Francophile family. Her father was a Francophile who loved French food. Her mother had to cook Julia Child's recipes. And, Black went to French Catholic schools where she was taught French by nuns. She was an eighteen-year-old, backpacking in Paris, and determined to use her French. One man listened to her, and then, with a British accent, told her you're using words we haven't used since 1900. The nuns taught an older version of French. To this day, France feels familiar, but different to her.

In 1984, a friend took Cara to the Marais, to the fourth arrondissement, the lower part, and pointing to a window, said, "That where my mother lived during the German Occupation." She was fourteen, wearing a yellow star and going to school. When she came home one day, her family was gone. The concierge and others took care of her during the war. In 1944, when the war ended, there  was a place people could go to get help finding their families. People put up signs asking if you have seen this family. A woman came up to Black's friend's mother, and said, "I saw your sister get off the train at Auschwitz."


Ten years later, Cara was in France with her family. She put her son to bed, and walked down the street, thinking what would these cobblestones say. What would have you done to survive? It took her three and a half years to write the first Aimée Leduc Investigations mystery, Murder in the Marais.

Black said she loved Sara Paretsky. She wanted her detective to be strong, but vulnerable. She has issues. She was raised by her father, a policeman, and there were police around the table at night. Aimée makes mistakes. Now, she's four years older. It was Rhys who mentioned that if anyone saw Midnight in Paris, they saw Duluc Detective Agency. That's the firm Cara  used as the basis for Leduc Investigations.

I wrapped up the program by asking the authors where they were going with their books. Rhys Bowen said she writes a series besides Molly Murphy. Her Royal Spyness series features a minor royal in the 1930s. That's the series she chuckles over. The last book in that series was Naughty in Nice. The next one in that series will be a Christmas mystery coming out in November, The Twelve Clues of Christmas. Rhys calls that series, "Downton Abbey with bodies." That series has been optioned for a movie. Now, they're saying it should start shooting in England in the third quarter of this year.

Cara Black told us she had submitted her manuscript to her editor for the next book in the Aimée Leduc Investigations. It will be set three months after Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

Libby Fischer Hellmann's next book is set in Cuba. It's her last revolutionary novel. She's still working on it. The book begins during the revolution. The second part takes place in the early 90s in Cuba when the economy collapsed. The third part will be in Chicago at the present time. The book covers three generations of the same family. Then, Hellmann will go back to her Georgia Davis series.

As always, it was a treat to welcome Rhys Bowen, Cara Black and Libby Fischer Hellmann to the Velma Teague Library for Authors @ The Teague.

Left to right - Rhys Bowen, Lesa Holstine, Cara Black and Libby Fischer Hellmann