Saturday, November 18, 2017

Picturing Christmas by Jason F. Wright and Sterling Wright

I'll admit most Christmas books are sweet, perhaps too sweet for many readers. Almost all Christmas novels have happy, satisfying endings. Picturing Christmas by Jason F. Wright and Sterling Wright is no exception. However, this is a book I would only recommend to new adults. The main character, Aubrey, and her preoccupation with her own problems was a little too much for me.

The prologue actually spoils any possible suspense in the novel, showing everything will be just fine, and indicating what's happening with Aubrey. I won't do the same. Instead, I'll start with Aubrey's graduation from college. She's twenty-two, ready to start her new life in New York City as she hopes to eventually work in photography there. But, before she graduated, her parents told her they were getting a divorce.

It's a stubborn, upset Aubrey who heads to New York City where she actually has an unpaid internship, and she's never told her parents she's not getting paid. But, she manages to make it until she's sent to Rockefeller Center to take pictures of the lighting of the tree. Then, she's accosted, and robbed of the company's photography equipment. A kind man finds her and asks to give him $50 for the one lens he was able to buy back. That's her first meeting with the extraordinary "Joel Miller" who has an unusual eye for moments and people who are different in New York.

Despite her new friendship, Aubrey's holiday season isn't what she expected, even when her parents show up. But, New York really hasn't changed Aubrey's cold heart, and she reacts with anger, turning away both her parents. Instead of moving ahead with her life, she lets bitterness and anger cloud her judgment, and spoil her first Christmas in New York.

Picturing Christmas is a Christmas story, though. Despite Aubrey's spoiled, angry attitude, there will be a happy ending. But, this time, Jason F. Wright, author of Christmas Jars, doesn't have the right main character to carry off that happy ending. That's why I'd suggest Picturing Christmas for young adults, struggling with their own first apartments, first job, first time on their own. Most of the rest of us will find Aubrey immature and ungrateful. At least she gains a little wisdom at the end.

Note: I was intrigued, though, by the description of the New York Botanical Gardens' Train Show. I think I'm going to have to make a holiday visit there next year.

Picturing Christmas by Jason F. Wright and Sterling Wright. Sweetwater Books, 2017. ISBN 9781462128617 (paperback), 183p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, November 17, 2017

Winners and More Christmas Mysteries Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. The Usual Santas will go to Rob R. of San Antonio, TX. Martha C. of Scottsdale, AZ will receive How the Finch Stole Christmas. The books are going out in the mail today.

But, wait! I have more Christmas mysteries to give away. Mrs. Jeffries, the quick-witted housemaid of a bumbling British inspector, returns for the holidays in Emily Brightwell's latest Victorian mystery, Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women. Cantankerous Christopher Gilhaney manages to insult every guest at a Bonfire Night dinner party. When he's shot dead under the cover of nighttime fireworks, it seems to be a robbery gone wrong, and everyone begins to deck the halls for the holiday season. Six weeks later, the case isn't solved yet, and a motley crew of servants-turned-detectives set out to solve the mystery and save Christmas.

The cover of The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelt is still one of the cutest book covers I've ever seen. Defense Lawyer Andy Carpenter has a friend, Martha "Pups" Boyer, who takes in stray puppies and raises them until they're old enough to adopt. With Christmas just around the corner, one of Pups' neighbors turns her into the city for having more pets than she should. Andy's eager to defend her. And, then that neighbor ends up dead after Pups threatened him, and even found the body. Now, just before the holidays, Andy has a murder case on his hands.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at To make it easy, your subject heading should read either "Win Brightwell" or "Win Rosenfelt." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, Nov. 23 at 5 PM CT so someone can give thanks that they won.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

What Are You Reading?

It's that time of year. I'm reading Christmas books here and there. I just picked up Jason F. Wright's new book, Picturing Christmas, about a young woman who moves to New York City. That captures two things I love, Christmas and New York. Wright is the author of Christmas Jars. He co-wrote this book with Sterling Wright. I can't say for sure, but, in looking at the photos, I'm guessing Sterling Wright is Jason's father.

So, what are you reading this week? I'm off for the next couple days, so I have extra reading time. Yay! May you find some time for quiet and reading this week. Tell us what book or audio book you're reading, please.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza

Pete Souza took all the photos of then Senator Barack Obama, so it's no surprise he was asked to become the Chief Official White House Photographer. For eight years, he had full access to take pictures of the President. If you pick up Obama: An Intimate Portrait, you'll recognize some of the iconic pictures. Others will seem fresh. For those of us who admired the 44th President of the United States, it's not only an intimate glimpse inside eight years, it's a collection that brings regret.

There are over 300 pictures in the collection with captions and sometimes short comments that tell the story behind the photos. Barack Obama wrote the foreword, and Souza wrote the introduction.  President Obama was correct when he commented about Souza's work. "It's his capacity to capture the mood, the atmosphere, and the meaning of that moment."

Souza does a magnificent job capturing those moments. Most of us remember the photo of the little boy touching the President's hair to see if he had the same hair. Study those pictures of Obama with children. There's so much joy and pleasure on his face. It's almost the same joy as you'll see when he's with his daughters. You can also see the broken expression when he hears and then speaks about the children shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the day he referred to as the worst day of his Presidency.

With any President, there's an awareness of history in the making. But President Obama and Michelle Obama were aware of their positions, the first African-American President and First Lady. Many of those photos represent those historic moments. But, there are also fun photos, such as Paul McCartney singing "Michelle Ma Belle" to the First Lady. Or, that recognizable picture of the President quieting a baby that cried for Michelle.

Admittedly, Souza staged some shots. He wanted the last helicopter shot of the former President as he flew away from Washington. His comment as he looked at the White House? "We used to live there." But, for all of us who admired the last President and his eight years of service to the country, it's bittersweet to notice a detail in one of the pictures. There's a photo of Barack Obama leaving the Oval Office for the last time as President. Each President selects his rug for that room. One of the quotes on President Obama's rug is from Teddy Roosevelt. "The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us."

Pete Souza's Obama: An Intimate Portrait is a gorgeous collection of historic photos. It's the perfect gift for the person who admired President Barack Obama. (Give them a box of tissues with it.)

Pete Souza's website is

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza. Little, Brown & Company. 2017. ISBN 9780316512589 (hardcover), 352p.

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson

I hope those of you who read mystery series take my suggestions seriously. Wendy Tyson's Seeds of Revenge is a fascinating mystery with well-developed characters in a small town. There's a complex, character-driven plot. But, I'd recommend that you start with A Muddied Murder, the first in the series, if you can. The main character, her family and friends, are so interesting in this third book that I wish I had started with the first one.

Megan Sawyer, ex-lawyer turned organic farmer and cafe owner, is on her way back from a business trip to Philadelphia when she comes upon a stranded car. Then she finds the owner, walking through the snow. Megan picks up Becca Fox, not realizing she's bringing trouble into the town of Winsome, PA. Becca is heading to her aunt Merry's house, but when she and Megan arrive, Becca is furious to see her estranged father. She makes no secret that she blames him for her mother's death, and says he killed her.

Megan had left Winsome for college when the Fox family lived for a short time in Winsome. She never knew the troubled family. But, Megan witnesses the end of an argument between her great-aunt Sarah and Paul Fox, Becca's father. When Paul's son finds him dead in their rented house, it quickly becomes apparent that many people in town disliked Paul Fox. And, Megan's great-aunt had an unusual connection to Fox and his death.

There are so many aspects of this book that I like. Megan is a mature, intelligent character, a widow, an ex-lawyer. She has an excellent relationship with the young police chief. "She'd come to respect his abilities and toughness as a new police chief, and he seemed to appreciate her insight." The two work well together, and, in most cases, she keeps him informed in advance of any actions.

Seeds of Revenge involves families, and issues in several families, including Megan's own. Megan aches to make things right for the town she loves. Traditional mysteries, and particularly cozy mysteries, often deal with an imbalance. Something sets off the balance in a small town. Megan has a reason to search for a killer. "And once again there was a sore festering amongst the good people of Winsome."

You can start with the third book in "A Greenhouse Mystery" series, Seeds of Revenge. I suggest, though, that you start with A Muddied Murder.

Wendy Tyson's website is

Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson. Henery Press. 2017. ISBN 9781635112788 (hardcover), 272p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Ghost of Christmas Past By Rhys Bowen

There’s an atmosphere of sorrow and foreboding that hangs over Bowen’s latest mystery, The Ghost of Christmas Past. After Molly Murphy Sullivan’s miscarriage and the events during the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco (Time of Fog and Fire), Molly’s still mourning. And, Daniel's job is in jeopardy because of his honesty, and his refusal to cooperate with Tammany Hall.

This Christmas promises to be bittersweet. It looks like Molly's beloved almost-daughter, Bridie, will be moving back to Ireland. And, Molly's best friends won't be home for Christmas. But, just as Molly plans to give up heart, they receive an unexpected invitation. Daniel's mother is visiting the Van Aikens, wealthy friends in Scarborough. They invite the Sullivans to come for Christmas, so Daniel, Molly, Bridie and two-year-old Liam head out of town.

Once they're at the estate, Molly suspects something is wrong. She sympathizes when she learns of the disappearance of the Van Aikens' only child, a toddler, ten years earlier. But, her suspicions are aroused when a young teen appears at the door on Christmas Eve, claiming to be the missing Charlotte. It takes a mystery to turn Molly's emotions around. As Daniel continues to tell her, she just wants to make everything right.

It's been quite a while since I've read one of Bowen's Molly Murphy books, but they remain favorites of my sister's. Readers like me, who have not read one in quite a while, can easily catch the storyline in this haunting and surprising story of Christmas.

Rhys Bowen's website is

The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen. Minotaur Books, 2017. ISBN 9781250125729 (hardcover), 272p.

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit by Chris Matthews

"Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God." - Aeschylus

This was part of Robert Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis when he told the crowd Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated. It was a poem by his favorite poet. Chris Matthews refers to his new biography, Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, as a personal biography. He lets readers know where he was in his life, and his personal beliefs, as well as his parents, at crucial moments in Kennedy's life. He acknowledges there are numerous other books, including two that he says have stood the test of time, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.'s Robert Kennedy and His Times, and Evan Thomas' Robert Kennedy: His Life.

It's always tempting to make a book about the Kennedys personal. Where were you when you heard John F. Kennedy was assassinated? Where were you when you heard Robert Kennedy was assassinated? I was young, only eleven when Robert Kennedy was killed, but my husband, who read everything about the Kennedys, always thought Robert Kennedy would have been a better president, and that Aeschylus quote hung on the wall in his den. He admired him, and everything he stood for. He would have eagerly read Matthews' book.

And, it's worth reading Bobby Kennedy, whether you remember him or not. Matthews chronicles the changes in Kennedy, from the third son, the weak one, who yearned for his father's approval, to the position of a man who wanted justice, and wanted to confront the oppressor, to a man who understood and wanted to help the oppressed. It covers his time as his brother's campaign manager, attorney general, and candidate. But, the book really covers the development of Kennedy's own values and moral code. In Kennedy's own book, The Enemy Within, he concludes with words that defined him. Matthews quotes him, the "toughness and idealism that guided our nation in the past," a "spirit of adventure, a will to fight what is evil, and a desire to serve."

Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit is easy to read because it has Matthews' personal touch. For those of us who only know the legends of the Kennedys, it's a moving account of changing beliefs and the life of a man who changed the country, whose promise of so much more was cut short.

Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit by Christ Matthews. Simon & Schuster. 2017. ISBN 9781501111860 (hardcover), 396p.

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Purple Palette for Murder by R.J. Harlick

If you haven't read R.J. Harlick's previous Meg Harris mysteries, don't worry about it. You can still pick up the vivid, intense eighth book in the series, Purple Palette for Murder. Harris takes readers away to the Canadian wilderness with all of its beauty. She also carefully integrates the stories and tragedies of the Five Nations people. Her setting and  stories are unique. If you have to compare her to someone, you might want to think about Margaret Coel for her mysteries on the Wind River Reservation or C.J. Box' wilderness stories.

Meg Harris has been afraid to go too far from home after the events in A Cold White Fear. She doesn't even accompany her husband, Eric, the newly installed Grand Chief of the Grand Council of First Nations, when he flies to Yellowknife in the Northern Territories to meet with other chiefs and his family. But, she's forced to set aside her fears when she receives a phone call. Eric's in jail, arrested for killing the man who may have attacked his daughter. Teht'aa Bluegoose, Meg's stepdaughter, had been about to start a new job with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Now, she's lying in a hospital bed, beaten half to death, in a coma.

As Meg learns more, she finds her only encouragement comes from the man who once encouraged Eric, "Uncle Joe", Joe Bluegoose. The patriarch of his family is a calm presence in the midst of all the turmoil. While the doctors can't say if Teht'aa will live or have brain activity, Uncle Joe says she'll be fine. When Eric tells his lawyer he'll plead to manslaughter with a sentence of at least three years, Meg and Uncle Joe are convinced he's innocent. And, it may be up to Meg to find answers.

Some of those answers lie with Teht'aa's family, sisters and cousins who are often drunk or picking up men. Do the answers lie with the man who insists he's Teht'aa's boyfriend? A break-in, theft, and a murder convince Meg there's more to this story than Eric knows.

While Harlick is known for her vivid depiction of the Canadian wilderness, and there are beautiful descriptions in this book, it was the family connections and the stories of the people of the First Nations that I found fascinating. The history of the peoples, their storytelling, and their shameful treatment by the white people is an integral part of this mystery. Readers won't easily forget the stories of the residential schools, and the damage they caused.

Purple Palette for Murder, as I said, is a dramatic mystery, involving power and family. Don't worry if you haven't read previous books. This one can stand by itself.

R.J. Harlick's website is

Purple Palette for Murder by R.J. Harlick. Dundurn. 2017. ISBN 9781459738652 (paperback), 392p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Winners and Holiday Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Jody C. from Manhattan, KS won Murder at Chateau sur Mer. Sheryl J. of Grapevine, TX will receive The Inheritance. Due to the Veteran's Day holiday, the books will go out on Saturday.

I know it's early, but if the books are to go out in the mail so you can have time to read them before Christmas, I should give them away now. I have two 2017 releases, so many of you may not have had time to pick up these books yet. The latest Meg Lanslow Christmas mystery by Donna Andrews is How the Finch Stole Christmas. Meg has to solve the latest local murder before it spoils Christmas in Caerphilly. Meg's husband is changing his one-man show of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, making it a full production with the twins playing Tiny Tim and young Scrooge while Meg is the stage manager. But, Scrooge himself? The over-the-hill actor who comes to town to play Scrooge brings a sleigh full of baggage and enemies with him. And, what's with all those beautiful caged finches?

I have an ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) of The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers. This is a collection of unusual and unexpected stories from authors such as Tim Hallinan, Cara Black, James R. Benn, Sujata Massey. There's a wonderful introduction and Christmas  story by Peter Lovesey. If you're looking for a collection with some different stories, you'll want to try to win this one. (And, if you don't win this one copy, you might want to buy a copy.)

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win The Usual Santas" or "Win How the Finch Stole Christmas." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Nov. 16 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

What Are You Reading?

It's time to talk about our weekly reading. While I'm reading a book for review, I'm also reading Chris Matthews' new book, Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit. While I've read quite a bit about John F. Kennedy, I haven't read as much about Bobby. I've just started the book, but it's an easy read, and I'm enjoying it.

The big question is, what are you reading? Let's talk about your last week, and what you've had time to read. Let's talk about those books!

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

It's only been seven years since the last film version of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, and I know that fans of David Suchet's version of the movie are satisfied with him as Christie's detective, Hercule Poirot. Many are not even interested in checking out Kenneth Branagh's interpretation, especially after they saw trailers of him with his mustache. I've seen both earlier editions of the film. It's only my opinion, but I find the 1974 film starring Albert Finney to be brilliant, and Christie herself liked it. It's pure entertainment with a stellar cast including Ingrid Bergman, Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, John Gielgud, and Michael York. It's faithful to the book, with a few name changes, and an unusual final scene. I was disappointed in the 2010 film starring David Suchet. It lacked the entertainment element, and went with strong religious elements that were definitely not part of Agatha Christie's story. Read the book. Murder on the Orient Express is a true classic of the mystery genre. Then, check out whatever version of the movie you'd like to see. I'm heading to the theater to see Kenneth Branagh's new rendition once it's released.

If you've never read Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, you're in for a treat. This is one of the Golden Age mysteries with a most unusual ending. Christie violated the tenets of the genre by surprising the reader with quite a twist. If you've read the book or seen any rendition of the movie, it's still a treat to follow along with the great Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

Poirot has just wrapped up a case when he's called from Istanbul to London. M. Bouc, a director of the train line, offers his friend a first class compartment on the Orient Express, knowing it is seldom full in the winter. To his surprise, all the first class compartments are full, but M. Bouc insists Poirot be given a compartment to share until a first class compartment opens. And, it's M. Bouc who points out the romance of the train and its passengers. "All around us are people, of all classes, of all nationalities, of all ages. For three days, these people, these strangers to one another, are brought together. They sleep and eat under one roof, they cannot get away from each other. At the end of three days, they part, they go their several ways, never, perhaps, to see each other again."

On the train, Poirot observes his fellow passengers, including a man, an American named Ratchett, who tries to hire Poirot to protect him. Poirot turns him down, telling him he doesn't like his face. And, evidently someone else doesn't like Ratchett. Along with other disturbances during the night, Poirot hears a cry from Ratchett's compartment. All the passengers awake in the morning to learn that the train is stuck on the tracks, due to snow. But, their fellow passenger, Ratchett, doesn't awake. Instead, he's found dead in his locked compartment, stabbed a dozen times.

M. Bouc quickly enlists the services of Hercule Poirot to solve the crime since the train is stuck in Yugoslavia. Poirot sees only two solutions. Either the criminal left the train in the middle of the night, or he is still on the train, stuck with all the other passengers. It's Hercule Poirot's job to find the truth.

I can't reveal more about the book without spoiling the ending. Looking at the characters now, they seem to be stereotypes representing different classes and nationalities. But, the story was written in 1934. According to her grandson, Christie's books were written as entertainment. Murder on the Orient Express succeeds as a brilliant solution to a fascinating crime. And, Christie based part of her story on the headlines of an American crime.  Again, I won't spoil the story. I do recommend that you read the book before you watch any of the movies.

That doesn't mean you can't watch a trailer, though.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. 1934. (This edition - HarperCollins, 2017. ISBN 9780062689665, media tie-in, paperback, 288p.)

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

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Easy Errors by Steven F. Havill

Those of us who love Steven F. Havill's Posadas County Mysteries will relish the opportunity to read the surprising Easy Errors. Newcomers, fans of police procedurals, can pick up the series with this book. Easy Errors is a prequel to the prequel, One Perfect Shot. Welcome to Posadas County, a fictional small county in southwestern New Mexico. And, welcome to Undersheriff Bill Gastner's world.

Gastner is the narrator of this account, the story of Robert Torrez' first week on the job. Fresh out of the academy, Torrez is on a ride-along the night before he officially starts his job. This is a night that will test the young deputy's mettle. Even in his living room, Gastner hears the crash at 9:17 PM. The undersheriff is the first at the scene. He finds the body of a teen, ejected from the truck. Before he can stop Torrez, the young deputy, the second to arrive, is checking out the victims inside the vehicle. Two of the three teenage victims are Torrez' younger brother and sister.

Robert Torrez is a stoic throughout the entire investigation. Sheriff Eduardo Salcido has a small team, but he draws everyone into the case. Even so, it's Torrez and Gastner who do much of the fieldwork. At the same time, they still have other crimes to handle in Posadas County. It's a call to check out shots fired into a water tank and a windmill that will lead to the solution to the case. And, it's in a nearby canyon that Robert Torrez finds the body of another teen.

Havill's latest mystery is a textbook example of a compelling police procedural. Readers can follow along, step-by-step as Torrez and Gastner investigate. At the same time, this is a heartbreaking story of a county where everyone knows each other, knows the victims. The grapevine is active with rumors, but the stories and residents of Posadas County bring the humanity to the mystery.

Those of us who love Havill's mysteries will appreciate this look backward to a time when Robert Torrez was a rookie. There are glimpses of future characters, Reuben Fuentes, and his niece's adopted daughter, Estelle. Bill Gastner is still Gastner, though, which is a comfort.

Whether you've read all of Havill's mysteries, as I have, or are just starting out, Easy Errors is a solid, satisfying police procedural.

Easy Errors by Steven F. Havill. Poisoned Pen Press, 2017. ISBN 9781464209222 (hardcover), 262p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Unholy City by Carrie Smith

Here's a case in which you can pick up book three in a series, and appreciate it. Carrie Smith's latest Claire Codella mystery, Unholy City, is a fascinating police procedural. The setting of the murder reminds me of Julia Spencer-Fleming's books. But, this is a solid police procedural that brings together a diverse cast for a compelling story.

Manhattan police detective Claire Codella has had a rocky life. She's the daughter of a killer, a man she saw beat a woman to death with a baseball bat. She's a cancer survivor who has had to struggle against her woman-hating boss. She left her police detective partner, Brian Haggerty, behind when she moved to homicide, a move that left them estranged, although they're now romantic partners. But, that doesn't mean it's easy to work together. When Haggerty arrives the scene of a death at St. Paul's Episcopalian Church, he calls in Claire to take over the case when he realizes Philip Graves, the senior warden, was murdered in the church's garden. Because it was right after a vestry meeting, the members of the vestry committee are all suspects. That's before Claire discovers there's a homeless shelter attached to the church, an organist in the church, and a man is found wandering on the second floor after midnight. The suspect list broadens when Claire and her team learn it was a tumultuous meeting, the minutes are missing, and they find the vestry secretary's body.

Secrets. It's all about secrets. All of the suspects have secrets they're trying to keep. And, the police are determined to find the secrets that may have led to Philip Graves' murder. It's not easy as suspects lawyer up, talk to the media, and try to thwart police discoveries.

Claire Codella has problems of her own. Her boss wants her off the case. The media is attacking her personally. And, her relationship with Brian Haggerty suffers as she focuses all her attention on the murder investigation.

Unholy City is a fast-paced, intense story that covers just a short period of time. It's Smith's character development, along with the police step-by-step investigation, that brings the story to life. Fans of police procedurals should appreciate Smith's entertaining mystery.

Carrie Smith's website is

Unholy City by Carrie Smith. Crooked Lane Books, 2017. ISBN 9781683313298 (hardcover), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Body on the Doorstep by A. J. MacKenzie

"Scarecrow! Scarecrow!

On the southern coast of England there's a legend people tell,
Of days long ago when the great Scarecrow would ride from the jaws of hell,
And laugh with a fiendish yell,
With his clothes all torn and tattered,
Through the black of night he'd ride
From the marsh to the coast like a demon ghost,
He'd rob the rich then hide,
And he'd laugh till he split his side

Scarecrow! Scarecrow! The soldiers of the king feared his name.
Scarecrow! Scarecrow! The country folk all loved him just the same.


These lyrics are copyright 1963 by Terry Gilkyson. And, anyone who grew up watching Diseny's "Wonderful World of Color", and is old enough to remember 1964, will remember those haunting lyrics. That was the opening to "Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh". And, it's all I could think about when I read A.J. MacKenzie's debut novel, The Body on the Doorstep, a mystery that features the Reverend Hardcastle, the minister at St. Mary in the Marsh in Romney Marsh.

In 1796, the people of southeast England's coast fear an invasion by the French. The sea provides their livelihood, but it also presents a threat. The small village of Romney Marsh on the coast is a hotbed of smuggling. Reverend Hardcastle's parishioners may not show up for services, but they are deeply involved in the local business of smuggling. He knows it, and they acknowledge he knows it by leaving him gifts of brandy. In fact, Hardcastle drinks at the local pub with many of those men. The Excise and Customs men responsible for collecting taxes are not quite as welcome there. 

It's after midnight when there's a pounding on Hardcastle's door, and the drunken rector stumbles his way there. But, when a dying man falls on his doorstep, a man who was shot, Hardcastle is aware enough to catch his last words. It's a message Hardcastle keeps to himself until the right person comes along. Mrs. Chaytor is a widow, a newcomer to the village, and her comments about the shots fired that night are enough to catch Hardcastle's attention. It isn't long before he teams up with the shrewd woman and the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, to pool their knowledge. 

Hardcastle and Chaytor are involved in a dangerous business. While Chaytor is a widow, Hardcastle has to deal with supervision by the Church as well as Lord Clavertye. He's the one who becomes a target when their investigation disturbs the wrong people. And, they seem to stir up trouble when they ask questions about a mysterious group called The Twelve Apostles.

Smuggling, murder, threats, bribery. MacKenzie's debut mystery is a fascinating historical mystery involving an actual hotbed of smuggling. The historical details bring the atmospheric mystery to life, while Hardcastle and Chaytor make a well-matched team of sleuths. There's even humor in this fascinating mystery.

If you relished the story of Dr. Syn; if you remember the Scarecrow, you'll want to read about the adventures of the Reverend Hardcastle and the widow, Mrs. Chaytor.

The Body on the Doorstep by A.J. MacKenzie. Bonnier Zaffre, 2017. ISBN 9781785761201 (paperback), 288p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Cremains of the Day by Misty Simon

I don't know if I should suggest that fans of Tonya Kappes' Ghostly Southern Mysteries would like this book, with the connection to a funeral home. Maybe it would be fans of Kathy Hogan Trocheck's Callahan Garrity cleaning service mysteries. Or, maybe I should just recommend Misty Simon's first Tallie Graver mystery, Cremains of the Day, to those who enjoy cozy mysteries with a self-aware, spirited amateur sleuth.

Tallie Graver could have gone into the family funeral home business. Instead, she married a man with money, Walden Phillips III. As their marriage deteriorated, she called him Waldo. Now that they're divorced, she's cleaning houses, usually for socialites she once considered friends. Darla Hackersham, for one, enjoys rubbing Tallie's nose into it, that she no longer has the money and position she once had. But, Tallie's happier now that she's admitted her mistakes, knowing she had been "a stuck-up bitch" when she was married. She's made up with her best friend Gina Laudermilch, owner of the local coffee shop. Now, Tallie cleans, helps her family with funerals, and helps Gina cater the dinners after the funerals.

After one of those funerals, everything goes downhill for poor Tallie. Sent to pick up sauerkraut at Gina's shop, she finds Gina's cousin tied to a chair and Waldo in the back alley. Who does the gruff police chief suspect might have attacked Waldo? Tallie hardly had time, but she's not one of the chief's favorite people. She's already not happy when she starts to have odd encounters with the flower deliveryman. When she shows up at Darla's house to clean after a party, she finds the woman's body. She's not having the best week. And, that flower deliveryman? He's looking for money that Waldo hid from the IRS.

Cremains of the Day is an amusing mystery with a flawed, introspective sleuth. She's reluctant to look for Waldo's money, but she's also on the hook for payments. However, as she bumbles along, she admits, "I was a failure at this whole sleuthing thing." But, with murder and money and the pressure getting to her, she begins to see herself a little differently. "Tallie Graver, amateur sleuth, wanted to stay out of jail, get the money, and solve whodunit before anyone else."

Misty Simon's first Tallie Graver mystery is a fun story, an enjoyable launch to a new cozy series.

Misty Simon's website is

Cremains of the Day by Misty Simon. Kensington. 2017. ISBN 9781496712219 (paperback), 250p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Winners and Mysteries in the 1800s

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Wendy A. from Ferndale, WA and Lisa G. of Pensacola Beach, FL won the copies of A Tale of Two Kitties. Cat Shining Bright is going to Pauline B. from Rochester, MI. The books will go out today.

This week, I have two mysteries set in the 1800s to give away. Alyssa Maxwell's Murder at Chateau sur Mer is a Gilded Newport mystery. (And, I hadn't read the earlier ones in this series when I read this one, so you don't have to have read earlier ones.) Society reporter Emma Cross, a less well-heeled cousin to the Vanderbilts, occasionally moonlights in solving murders in Newport, Rhode Island. This time, a wealthy woman, the wife of a senator, asks Emma to investigate when a woman is found dead in the senator's mansion.

In The Inheritance by Charles Finch, Charles Lenox receives a plea for help from an old schoolmate, Gerald Leigh, but when he looks into the matter, Leigh has disappeared. As Lenox searches for answers, he faced with confrontations with dangerous East End gangs and the genteel members of the Royal Society.  Lenox must dig deep into the past to find the truth behind bequests made to his friend.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Murder at Chateau sur Mer" or "Win The Inheritance." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Nov. 9 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

What Are You Reading?

The day that has become my favorite day of the week! I love Thursdays. I love to find out what you're reading each week.

I'm reading way ahead. Martin Edwards' next collection comes out at the beginning of January. It's The Long Arm of the Law: Classic Police Stories. I love police procedurals, and I always enjoy reading Edwards' introductions to each story in which he discusses the author's background. This one is a paperback, and only 234 pages. It's an enjoyable collection.

What are you reading this week? We'd all like to know.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

December Treasures in My Closet

Ah, December. The month when none of us have enough time to get much reading done. I hope you find time for some of these forthcoming books, though.

The second book in Stefan Ahnhem's Fabian Risk thriller series, The Ninth Grave, happens six months before the first book. One evening, the Swedish minister of justice disappears on the short walk from the house of Parliament and his car. At the same time, the wife of a famous Danish Tv star if found brutally murdered. Bodies pile up as criminal investigator Fabian Risk and his Danish counterpart race to put the pieces together. (Release date is Dec. 5.)

In Enchantress of Numbers, Jennifer Chiaverini focuses on the life of Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace. She was Lord Byron's only legitimate child, and the daughter of a mathematician mother. Her mother provided her with a rigorous education grounded in science and math. But, it's her friendship with the brilliant Charles Babbage that will define her destiny as the world's first computer programmer. (Release date is Dec. 5.)

"Girlfriend. Prostitute. Addict. Terrorist? Who is K?" Find out in Katherine Fav's novel, Ultraluminous. (Release date is Dec. 5.)

A Murder for the Books is the first book in Victoria Gilbert's Blue Ridge Library mystery series. University librarian Amy Webber left the university after making a scene when she caught her boyfriend with another woman. Now, she's managing a charming public library in a historic mountain town in Virginia. But, when she and her new neighbor find a body in the archives, they also uncover the scandalous past of the town. (Release date is Dec. 12.)

Kristan Higgins latest novel, Now That You Mention It, takes a prodigal daughter back to her Maine hometown where everyone doesn't welcome her. Nora Stuart took one step forward when she received the Tufts scholarship that put her on the path to becoming a Boston medical specialist. Then she was hit by a car and overheard her boyfriend hit on another doctor when she thought she was dying. The only place to return was home, where her tough islander mother is distant, and her sister is in jail, unable to raise her teenage daughter. Now, Nora has one last chance to mend her broken family. (Release date is Dec. 26.)

Detectives John Penley and Paula Newberry are on the case in James L'Etoile's Bury the Past. But, someone in Newberry's past wants to bury her, because when she was in Internal Affairs she helped put crooked cops in prison. Now, one of them is masterminding a scheme to discredit everything Paula has worked on. (Release date is Dec. 12.)

Is Amy Mitchell dead, or did she disappear fifteen years ago? In the third book in the Belfast McGrath mystery series, Bel, Book, and Scandal, author Maggie McConnon finally answers that question. It's a question that's been haunting Bel for years. When she sees a newspaper photo of a woman that looks like Amy, she heads north to search for answers. (Release date is Dec. 5.)

In Gail Oust's latest Spice Shop mystery, Ginger Snapped, Piper Prescott resumes her amateur sleuth duties when her friend, the local police chief, is suspended from his job. After he finds the body of a local realtor on his property, everyone who assumed he was in a relationship with the realtor also assumes he killed her. (Release date is Dec. 12.)

Katherine Hall Page plunks caterer Faith Fairchild into the middle of an Agatha Christie type mystery in The Body in the Casket. Faith is delighted when a retired Broadway producer asks her to cater an entire weekend party. But, it turns out he thinks one of the guests, all part of a failed production, is planning to kill him. He's hiring Faith for her investigative skills. (Release date is Dec. 5.)

Nancy J. Parra kicks off a new Wine Country mystery series with A Case of Syrah, Syrah. Taylor O'Brian's plans to lead "Off the Beaten Path" Wine Country Tours comes to an abrupt stop when her first tour ends in murder, and the victim's husband accuses Taylor of killing her. (Release date is Dec. 12.)

Joanna Schaffhausen's debut is The Vanishing Season. It introduces Ellery Hathaway, a police officer trying to move on with her life. She was child victim number seventeen in a grisly string of serial killings. But every year she receives a birthday card from an anonymous sender, and another person disappears. Ellery turns to the one person who might be able to help her, Reed Markham, the man who rescued her all those years ago. (Release date is Dec. 5.)

I don't have a lot of Treasures in My Closet for December, but most of us don't have a great deal of reading time either. I hope you enjoy the books you choose.